Nearly every young child has a plush toy that they do everything with and take everywhere. They feed it, talk to it, sleep with it, and drag it around the house. It becomes their trusty sidekick. Getting it away from them long enough to wash may be a challenge. Read more to find out why these parents and childhood experts believe children adopt these stuffed companions.
Katie Lear, LCMHC, RPT, RDT
Katie Lear is a licensed children's counselor and play therapist based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Find her at Katielear.com
Many kids develop an extremely close attachment to one plush toy in particular, and disaster ensues if they're separated from it, especially at bedtime. As aggravating as this can be for parents, it's not only developmentally normal but a sign of emotional health. Young children are in the process of learning something called object permanence: the idea that even when parents are out of sight, they aren't [gone]. Just because mommy is in the next room doesn't mean she'll never come back.
One way children deal with this psychologically is to find an object that reminds them of their parents' love while they're apart. We call this a transitional object because it helps children transition away from needing to be with their parents around the clock in order to feel secure. Most commonly, this object is something fluffy or fuzzy, like a plush toy, because those textures are naturally comforting and soothing to children.
In-play therapy, we use plush toys to help children develop their nurturing skills. They evoke warm, fuzzy feelings and encourage children to practice caretaking behaviors like feeding and dressing. If you've ever seen a child hold a teddy bear picnic, you know what I'm talking about. When children go through the motions of caring for a toy, they are learning how to be better friends and even future parents. Nurturing play also helps a child to self-soothe and remember what it feels like to be cared for by a parent.
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