Although many parents express concern when a child shows an unusual amount of attachment to an inanimate object, in general, there is no need to worry.
"Security blankets" are perfectly acceptable, says professor of clinical psychology James Miller of George Washington University. "Almost every child has one."
"The young child cannot distinguish the inanimate object from a living object," adds Mt. Kisco, N.Y., child psychiatrist Arthur Kornhaber. "One is as real as the other in the youngster's mind. It is a piece of mother, a portable mommy that the child takes with him when he goes away from her to explore his environment. It is a sanctuary protecting him against isolation and loneliness."
This attachment can start at various ages. It may be as early as six months or as late as two years,depending, says Kornhaber, on the child's temperament, maturity, physical and intellectual development.
Parents play a role here, too, says child psychologist Theodore Blau of Tampa. Some push an object toward the child and reinforce the idea that it is cute and important with laughter and gestures of approval.
Although most children have voluntarily given up a security blanket by age 7, if a 7-year-old panics when a parent tries to take it away, these experts say, he or she is too young to give it up. However, if a child has reached adolescence and still is unwilling to part with the blanket, it could be a warning that there is a problem.
Don't ridicule the child, says Kornhaber. The less importance you attach to this situation, the more likely the child will grow away from his "blankie."
Don't sneak the blanket out of the house in the middle of the night, drop it out of the cart at the supermarket, or throw it out of the window of your car while traveling down the highway. Says Blau, these are acts of desperation and parents shouldn't be desperate about this.
Do distract your child by introducing him or her to a real live pet, or a new toy, game, book, says Blau.
A few final points:
* Come to terms with your feelings. In no way is the inanimate object a sign that you have failed as a parent.
* If relatives or neighbors intimate that you must be doing something wrong, don't allow yourself even a moment of embarrassment, anger or guilt. Explain the current thinking of child psychologists and psychiatrists -- security blankets are okay, natural, and normal.
* From age 2 on, start taking positive steps in moderation to build your child's sense of self-esteem by letting the child make choices regarding meals, clothes, friends, books to read, games to play. A child who feels less dependent on a parent will have less need for a blanket or stuffed animal.