Baby’s BEST PALS

Your child has a new best bud. He’s well-behaved, quiet and an expert cuddler. Of course, Mr Teddy’s matted fur also smells faintly of nappy-rash cream and sour milk, but that doesn’t make him any less lovable to your tot.

So what’s up with your little one’s intense attachment to her favourite stuffed toy? Starting around age one, as kids become more mobile and discover that they’re independent from their parents (exciting developments that can also be the source of stress for children) comfort items such as blankets and stuffed animals may take on an important purpose.

Whether your toddler is playing with it or just holding it, having her teddy or blankie with her will automatically reduce her anxiety. Experts refer to these items as ‘transitional objects’ because they’re just that: something to temporarily help children navigate their growing world. Not only can Mr Teddy or Blankie-Boo help your child self-soothe when she’s separated from you, such as when you’re off at work or after you tuck her in at night, but he can also boost her confidence by making her feel more in control. You’ll see an example of this when you catch her playing parent with her stuffed toy: putting him to bed, punishing him with a time-out or expressing her love with kisses.

Grateful as you might be for the superpowers of your child’s favourite comfort item, though, her strong attachment to it can cause some practical complications, such as when Mr Bunny isn’t welcome at day care or if he gets lost. We’ve got help for some of the most common frustrations…

Mr Bear is M.I.A.

If replicas of your child’s fuzzy friend or blankie are available, help avert this disaster by investing in one – and washing and switching both out regularly so they have the same look and scent. That said, if you don’t have a duplicate in rotation when your child’s teddy or blanket gets lost, avoid subbing in a look-alike, as kids are quick to spot a fake.

Instead, be up-front. Talk in a relaxed way. If your child asks where her bear is, say, ‘Remember when we were at Grandma’s house? We may have left him there. Let’s call her and check”. But don’t panic if the bear doesn’t materialise. Show empathy by saying, “I can see why you miss him; he was a great friend, wasn’t he?” Although you can probably still expect a few days of tantrums and tough bedtimes while your little one accepts the loss, you can help smooth things over by offering to let her pick out a new friend at the toy store.

Blankie is a germ magnet

The truth: germs can hide in the fur or fabric of a child’s stuffed animal or go-everywhere blanket, so take measures to keep her snuggly object clean. While most cold and flu viruses will die off within a matter of hours, other germs can survive days or weeks. If your child has had a tummy bug, a staph infection or strep throat, wash her comfort object well in hot, soapy water (a dash of vinegar doesn’t hurt, either) and put it in the dryer or out on the line, just as you would her sheets.

Comfort items are also likely triggers of allergies, since dust mites and other allergens can accumulate on them. Dust mites can be killed by occasionally placing the item in a zip-lock bag and putting it in the freezer overnight.

Of course, wresting a favourite object out of your kid’s hands long enough to clean it can sometimes be a challenge! Try this: When her blankie gets dirty, wash it right when she sits down for breakfast. She’s too busy eating to notice it’s gone, and then she can have it ready for her morning nap.

Big Brother wants to share Teddy

It’s important to respect your toddler’s attachment to her comfort object, so you’ll likely have to step in and referee any sibling conflicts. Tell your older child to politely ask his little sibling first if she wants to share. If your younger child refuses (or just seems reluctant), don’t push it. Instead, explain to her sibling, “Ruby has said that she doesn’t want to share it now. Maybe later.”

Your kid freaks out when Mr Snuggles can’t come along

It might be frustrating if your child melts down every time she has to leave her comfort object at home, but keep in mind that her much-loved blanket or soft toy helps her stay strong when she gets overwhelmed by unfamiliar surroundings. Still, that doesn’t mean you should allow her to take it absolutely everywhere! Blankie should be a welcome guest only as long as you can easily keep track of him.

For example, you might say blankie can come along in the car, but has to stay there while you play at the park. Whenever possible, give your child some time to prepare for the separation – don’t spring the news on her just as you’re getting to the playground.

And don’t forget to remind your child that her snuggly friend will be right there waiting for her when she comes back. If you’re matter-of-fact about where the blankie or teddy is, your kid shouldn’t be too anxious.