Security objects for young children come in many forms. Worn blankets, ancient stuffed animals, bottles, pacifiers and scraps of garment lining are among the most common. The names bestowed on these objects usually originate from a baby's earliest attempts to speak - for example, "ba ba," "pooty," "binky," and "blankey."
These security objects are used in a variety of ways. The cartoon character Linus has immortalized the blanket-over-the-shoulder, thumb-in-mouth position, while Radar of the M*A*S*H TV series demonstrates the traditional approach of holding a stuffed animal while going to sleep. Small children may use security objects to hug, twitch, wipe between upper lip and nose, sniff, twirl, suck or rub.
The loss of a precious "bankee" or "pooty" can create real distress and ensuing bedlam in a family while everyone engages in a frantic search for the beloved object. Parents have been known to backtrack 100 miles on a trip or to demand that laundromats be opened after hours in the fervent hope that "pooty" will be found.
What's going on here? Should parents and caregivers try to wean toddlers from their deep attachments to security objects? Or should they encourage children to form such attachments and make the security objects available throughout early childhood or even later? Many parents have no choice in the matter, because specific attachments usually occur before the adults are aware of them. A parent or caregiver may not realize at first that a baby is crying and resisting rest or sleep because a certain blanket or comfort object is not where the child can see or feel it.
Objects apparently can become substitutes for the sense of comfort and security that comes from being held, rocked or walked. They provide constancy during a period of rapid change. Holding the security blanket or object allows the child to experience familiar feelings of security and face new, even frightening, events such as separation from parents.
It seems important, therefore, that children have access to security objects when they want them, but particularly at stressful times such as bedtime, going to day care or during a doctor's visit. Attempts by adults to persuade a child to surrender "pooty" may result in more determined efforts by that child not to let "pooty" out of sight or hand. The day care and nursery school practice of asking children to keep security objects in their cubbies is understandable, but children should have private time, on request, with the objects in their cubbies, and should never be asked to share these objects.
When is a child's attachment to a security object something to worry about? A rule of thumb might be that when a child's need for the object consistently interferes with play, sleeping, eating or social relationships, that child may be experiencing an overload of anxiety and professional consultation is indicated. But for most healthy children, occasional retreats with a security object over the course of a day provide important refueling stops in the important work of growing up.
In a New York Times article, Dr. Paul Horton was quoted as saying, "...the ability to give solace to oneself is the basis of such major positive feelings as joy, awe, forgiveness and generosity." At the very least, these "bankees" surely are comforting and young children's attachments to them should not be discouraged.
Source: Jennifer Birckmayer, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, New York State College of Human Ecology, Cornell University. Parent Pages were developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 19
Last updated May 24, 2016