Did you have a favorite toy growing up? One that you slept with? Do you still have it? Why do children grow attached to certain toys? What do they mean to children and to us?
The fact is, as children we become emotionally attached to cuddly toys or blankets.
Why, you ask?
Some researchers think it’s because, as children, we believe our objects of affection have some sort of quintessence or elan vital (creative or life force). It’s a sort of no limits, magical thinking children often indulge in. Children anthropomorphize their toys, thinking they can feel genuine human emotions. So strong attachment happens with our toys for those and other reasons. After all, our brains, from birth, are wired for attachment and bonding.
To further emphasize this bond we have with our toys, one study found that children preferred their treasured toy over an exact duplicate, even though the duplicate was the exact same toy in every detail. Young children imbue their treasured toy with intangible qualities that cannot be replicated.
After all, you can’t just replace teddy or blankie right?
The study further discovered 70% of children develop very strong emotional attachments to their toys or blankets and in some cases, those attachments become lifelong.
I know some parents may be concerned when their child refuses to sleep without their comfort toy. Some parents also think continued attachment to toys is silly — especially as their children gets older. Studies have never proven this to be true.
That brings me to think about adults’ attachment to their childhood toys. Do some adults maintain that strong bond with their toys? As a matter of fact, they do. In one study I read, a whopping one third of adults admit they can’t bear the thought of having to part with their favorite childhood toys — whether they slept with them or not.
If you still have a favorite comfort toy from your childhood, does that make you silly or childish? No, it does not.
After all, the need for comfort is human. Adults desire comfort too. Researchers such as Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst, suggested that comfort objects (cuddly toys, teddy bears and blankets) are something children, and many adults, enjoy. He further suggests that children and adults like their cuddly toys not in lieu of comfort and security from others, but because they remind them of comfort and security from others.
So, comfort toys remind us of comfort. They’re not substitutes for it.
On a segment of the “Today” show they reached out to Twitter with the question, “Is it OK for adults to still use their childhood comfort object?” Fifty-nine percent said “yes.” What does that tell us? It should tell us a lot of things, but mainly it should tell us it's OK if you still have, or sleep with for that matter, your comfort toy. Lots of people do it. It’s perfectly normal.
Not convinced it’s OK and not weird? Board-certified psychologist Dr. Rempala from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center said, “If a blanket or a stuffed animal helps create an ideal sleeping arrangement for you to fall asleep and stay asleep then its ok … If this comfort object is a way you signal your body you're safe to snooze off, then why not?”
All this to say, you are just fine if you still like your comfort object, whatever it is. So, stop judging yourself. Let’s make a judgment free zone shall we! After all, adults have an inner child. It’s the inner child part of us that loves spontaneity and carnival rides, that laughs out loud at silly things, that believes in magic and superheroes.
So go ahead, get out that toy, that stuffed animal, that blanket, and just enjoy. If you get teased by your partner or significant other for still liking to sleep with your “teddy” or your “blankie” tell them to back off. It's OK. Psychologists said so.
Snuggle up with your comfort toy, accept your “blankie” or “teddy” for all that they are. No need for embarrassment or guilt because a lot of people still have their comfort toys, whether they will admit it to you or not.
I’ll venture to guess you are thinking about that toy right now. I know I am. If your comfort toy is put away in a box, go get it. If you don’t have it anymore, find one — they’re still around.
So just relax. No more judgment, It’s teddy time. It’s sleepy time!
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.