Loveys: All you ever wanted to know!

Water color of a child riding a blanket (lovely) on a cloudYou’re on vacation and your child’s adored stuffed animal has been left behind: meltdown! You’ve tossed your child’s musky blanket swatch into the wash: inconsolable mourning! Such is the ultra-strong bond between children and his or her lovey.

What is a lovey?

Most young kids select a special object, often a stuffed animal or blanket, that comforts them as they negotiate early childhood, separating from parents and connecting with the world of objects and people. A lovey can be a soft cuddly object or even a solid object like a hard-edged toy.

Why is a lovey called a “transitional object” by child professionals?

These favorite objects are transitional because they serve as a bridge between a parent and the less familiar world around the child, especially in anxiety-provoking situations. As children bond with these objects, they learn there are things other than a parent they can hold and embrace, which will represent parental love and bring comfort. Special objects may also serve as a transitional bridge between being awake and being asleep.

What’s the usual age range for kids to actively cherish a lovey?

Kids cherish their loveys in infancy and preschool years, but may continue to seek comfort from them as they grow older. As children mature, they often change how they use their loveys. A blanket carried constantly by a child for several years may become essential only at bedtime. A beloved stuffed animal may become a constant imaginary friend. A child may carry her lovey, or a scrap, in her backpack as she heads off to school. Even college-bound teens often bring a favorite object with them.

Is there a particular type of child that needs a lovey more intensely?

It is developmentally natural and healthy for any young child to pick a lovey. Children who are by nature anxious and fearful, or exposed to threatening situations, may need these objects more acutely.

What functions does a lovey serve for a child?

A special object can provide a sense of connection with home and parents, relieve stress and worry, comfort an overly tired or scared child, and serve as a catalyst for creative play. In the very early years, loveys help children handle separations and reunions with their parents.

Is it wise to set lovey limits?

Parents may worry that their child will be teased or embarrassed when he takes his lovey outside the home. Indeed, parents may be embarrassed by a blanket-toting child. But setting limits on where the lovey can be taken may increase the child’s stress level and distress. Suggestions, rather than demands, to limit lovey use make most sense. For example, encouraging a child to use a lovey only at bed or nap time may be accepted as the child grows older.

Is it smart to establish a duplicate or substitute, from the get-go?

Since children are usually acutely sensitive to differences between an actual and a replacement lovey, it may not work to offer a substitute. However, creating a small “family” of loveys may be acceptable and protect against the distress of a lost or misplaced original lovey.

How should loveys be kept clean?

How a lovey serves a child is most important, not whether it is pretty and smells new. Repairing tears and scouring stains may actually increase a child’s distress. Asking a child to help in a lovey’s care may work best, rather than secretly cleaning it when the child is asleep.

How can loveys best be used in times of illness or injury?

Loveys can comfort a child who is ill or hurt. Taking the lead from the child, a parent may use role-playing to interact with a child about a stressful situation. If a child resists this kind of play, let it be. For example, imagining that a beloved stuffed animal or doll is hurt or ill like the child may increase the child’s distress. After all, the child depends on her lovey being available and “well.” Comfort through snuggling may be the best way a lovey can help.

In many Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs), special loveys are introduced to help establish a comforting physical bond through scent between parent and child. A small soft cushion, usually heart- shaped, is placed under the baby to absorb the infant’s scent. The parents are given a similar cushion to wear next to their skin to pick up their scent. At NICU visits, the cushions are exchanged between baby and parent to provide connection and comfort to one another.

How can a parent handle a child’s desire to bring a lovey into the Operating Room?

Children in the hospital or about to undergo surgery may especially want and need their loveys. Finding a balance between the child’s wishes and medical hygiene standards can be tricky. Studies have shown that even after washing, some loveys continue to carry bacteria. Creative and compassionate staff can find ways to reassure a child yet still maintain hospital cleanliness standards. For example, a lovey might be kept with a child until anesthesia takes effect and then restored to the child’s arms as he awakens after surgery. Or an older child may ask his lovey to keep his bed safe and warm until he returns.

Judith Wolf Mandell and Sally Loughridge PhD

Judith Wolf Mandell and Sally Loughridge PhD are the authors of children's books dealing with serious injury or illness. Mandellwas inspired to create Sammy's Broken Leg (Oh, No!) and the Amazing Cast That Fixed It after her granddaughter spent a mostly miserable month. Loughridge, a retired clinical child psychologist, wrote Daniel and His Starry Night Blanket: A Story of Illness and Sibling Love.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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