Pregnancy Articles

Loveys and Blankies: What's Normal, What's Not?

Transitional Objects Help Little Ones Take Care of Themselves

One night, my 3-year-old son fell out of bed and split open his lip. His bed was a bloody mess.

We got him patched up, but his lip still was bleeding and it wasn't a spot that could handle a bandage. I didn't want to change sheets at midnight only to have them bloody again by morning; he, rightfully, didn't want to sleep in the wet mess. So I flipped the pillow and pulled up the sheet until the mess magically "disappeared." Everyone was happy - until he went to settle into bed with his beloved, and now bloody, blanky.

"Wash it, Momma."

He has never willingly given up his Blank to be washed. (And yes, as any parent whose child has had a lovey knows, the Blank deserves its status as a proper noun. It is that important in our lives, an entity around which life revolves.)

"I can't wash it, Bud. If I wash it, you won't have it to sleep with."

"But I need it."

"Then, you've got it."

"But it's bloody."

This went on for a bit. He knew what his choices were, he really didn't want to sleep with blood, but he couldn't give up the Blank. It was midnight; I wanted to lie down and I am not heartless. I cuddled with him and the nasty, stinky blanky until he went to sleep.

And that's the thing about loveys: They're great until they aren't. They can help a child feel secure and be a tool for them to rely on while they learn to calm themselves. But at some point, like any external crutch being used by anyone, they are fallible. They break. They get dirty. They get lost. And then you, the parent, is left with a child in a tizzy because a.) something bad already happened and b.) the center of the known world is gone. It's all very dramatic and not fun.

Not every child has a lovey, but many do. Experts call them "transitional objects," and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents that having a particular attachment to a toy or blanket is normal. My boys and most of the other kids I've known have picked their lovey in late babyhood, between 6 and 9 months. Toys and blankets are common--both of my boys have blankies, but I've known kids to carry around towels or insist on a particular hat.

Pediatricians say parents shouldn't worry about weaning toddlers off transitional objects. Typically, these loveys will find themselves left in a corner as the child grows more active and comfortable in the world. Conveniently, this usually happens around the time a child is ready to start school, where loveys are discouraged.

Still, that leaves several years where a child's good mood is dependent on something easily lost or broken. How do you stave off disaster?

  • First, get a spare. Even the Academy of Pediatrics recommends this. Find a replica of the lovey and--this is the important part--rotate them when the child isn't paying attention. It's not good enough just to have a spare bunny lying around as an understudy for The Bunny. If you don't rotate it, the spare won't have the child's scent on it or the smell of your home, and that's the comfort your child really needs. If the lovey is a blanket, you can cut it in half, provided you do so before the child is old enough to notice size.

  • Sometimes, a spare isn't possible or enough. Figure out what is an acceptable substitute for your child. As I said, both my boys have blankets. I didn't have the forethought - or sewing skills - to cut those blankets in half, however, they each have a second blanket that they only use at daycare that, when push comes to shove, is almost as good as The Blank. Also, in really desperate times, they'll take any blanket or blanket-like object that smells like home. I let my oldest cuddle with a knit sweater of mine on one long car ride home.

  • Careful and stealthy cleaning is an important part of lovey upkeep. We don't have spare blankets, so I've gotten very good at stealing blankets right after they wake up on Saturday morning, burying them under other dirty clothes and getting them washed and dried in time for after-lunch naps. Laundry isn't always what I want to be doing on a weekend morning, but that's the time they are least likely to need their blanket. If the lovey is a stuffed animal or other delicate item, handwash as much as you can. Loveys are never going to look pristine, considering their life of being cuddled and sucked on and dragged through mud and who knows what else. You want to be able to get the worst of the germs off, but you might have to resign yourself to matted fur and stains.

  • As the child gets older, enlist their help in cleaning and keeping track of the lovey. My 3-year-old, since the night of the Bloody Blank, has asked several times to wash his lovey. He told my husband, "My Blank stinks. But I love it anyway." He also knows that his Blank is his responsibility. If he doesn't bring it, he can't whine about not having it.

  • But sometimes, you need to cut the kid some slack. Sometimes kids are brats; they're demanding their lovey and they need to just deal with it and stop the whining. Other times, it's midnight and they are frightened and hurt and they're favorite blanky is bloody. This is something you must determine on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes, when a lovey is lost or forgotten or broken, you just have to spoil the kid a little and be their lovey for a bit like I was the night of the Bloody Blank. The lovey is, after all, the object they're using to gain some independence from you.

Still, you might reach a point where you're tired of the lovey. You don't want to worry about its whereabouts. You don't want to have to clean it every other day because of sandbox visits or toilet dunkings. In my case, I had stepped one too many times on a spit-soaked blanket lying in the middle of my kitchen. If that happens, and your child is an older toddler, you might consider putting some limits on the lovey.

Many parents of children attached to pacifiers will begin the weaning process by limiting their use to the crib. I don't want to get rid of my sons' blankets, but I just couldn't step on spitty satin blanket backing any longer, plus, I wanted to get my 3-year-old slowly adjusted to the idea of leaving his Blank at home everyday while he ventured to school. So, in our house, once a child turns 3, the blanket becomes a Bedroom-only Blank. The boys are free to go to their rooms and hang out with the Blank as much as they want, but the blanket doesn't leave the bedroom. (We make special exceptions for long car-rides and injuries.) This has the added bonus of allowing the parent, when a child is throwing a tantrum, to deal with the behavior by simply saying, "I think you need some blanky time." The child doesn't feel like he's being punished, exactly, because he gets his comfort item, but it's also clear that he can't behave like a brat and get to hang out with the family.

And that's the beauty of a lovey: They teach a child to trust in and take care of himself.

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About The Author

Hillary Copsey
Hillary Copsey is a newspaper reporter in Florida with experience writing about everything from population trends to health care issues. As the mother of two boys, she also is versed in searching for daycares, cooking healthy dinners on the fly and playing with trucks. She co-writes the blog Not raising brats.

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