12 months Hush, LIT­TLE BABY

From blankies to dum­mies, why do in­fants at­tach them­selves to ob­jects of com­fort? It turns out it’s an im­por­tant part of their psy­cho­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment

Your Baby & Toddler - - YOUR BABY - BY LORI COHEN

When you have a b a b y, ex­pect peo­ple to shower you with soft toys from bun­nies with floppy ears to soft-as-silk ted­dies. While they are of­ten in­tended as dec­o­ra­tion, don’t dis­count how im­por­tant one of these lit­tle crit­ters could be­come in your child’s life. In fact, they could be­come the next best thing to you as far as baby is con­cerned.

Many chil­dren find com­fort in a sooth­ing ob­ject, known in psy­cho­log­i­cal terms as a tran­si­tional ob­ject, such as a teddy bear, soother, dummy or se­cu­rity blan­ket, ex­plains Rosa Krauss, a child and fam­ily be­hav­iour ther­a­pist and par­ent­ing coach of Carenect in Cape Town. “The ob­ject be­comes psy­cho­log­i­cally im­bued with the nur­tur­ing qual­i­ties of the baby’s main care­giver, usu­ally the mother. It rep­re­sents the mom in times of sep­a­ra­tion and al­lows the young child to move, or tran­si­tion, from a state of de­pen­dence (where mom is needed to reg­u­late and soothe up­sets) to in­de­pen­dence (where the toddler is more able to self-soothe).”

WHERE IT ALL BE­GINS

If you’re con­cerned that your three-month-old turns her nose up at the doo-doo blan­ket you of­fer her, don’t be. At­tach­ment to a com­fort ob­ject re­ally only kicks in at about six months, when a baby starts to show signs of aware­ness of in­de­pen­dence from mom. “The in­fant be­comes aware that she and the mother are two sep­a­rate be­ings. This aware­ness of sep­a­rate­ness can cause sig­nif­i­cant anx­i­ety for the in­fant. Hav­ing an ob­ject that can ‘stand in’ for the mother, es­pe­cially in times of stress, ame­lio­rates this anx­i­ety. The baby knows the ob­ject is not the mother, but is none­the­less able to ob­tain com­fort from it as if it is the mother. It is this ca­pac­ity to ne­go­ti­ate sep­a­ra­tion via an ob­ject which al­lows for the abil­ity to self-soothe and in­de­pen­dence to emerge,” says clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist Dr Joal­ida Smit.

So what’s the ben­e­fit of get­ting your child to at­tach to Mr Cud­dles? “Chil­dren who use a com­fort ob­ject have been found to show de­creased lev­els of stress and dis­tress in new sit­u­a­tions (be­ing left with a new babysit­ter for the first time or be­ing ex­am­ined by a doc­tor, for in­stance), as they are able to use their ob­ject to help reg­u­late their feel­ings and min­imise anx­i­ety,” says Rosa. While your child can al­ways reach for her teddy when she’s dis­tressed, it also gives you an emer­gency ob­ject to give them when you find you are not able to help them calm down.

Rosa rec­om­mends that you in­tro­duce your baby to a com­fort ob­ject ear­lier than six months so that the link be­tween com­fort and sooth­ing is al­ready es­tab­lished through fa­mil­iar smell and tex­ture. “Con­sider keep­ing it close at hand when feed­ing in early in­fancy so that your baby be­gins to as­so­ciate the smell and tex­ture with a sooth­ing, nur­tur­ing act,” she says.

Not all chil­dren de­velop an at­tach­ment to a tran­si­tional ob­ject and this is com­pletely nor­mal too. “Some chil­dren de­velop only fleet­ing at­tach­ments, or ro­tate through a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent soothers, while many chil­dren de­velop very strong at­tach­ments to one par­tic­u­lar item,” says Rosa.

WHAT’S THE DOWN­SIDE?

There’s re­ally only one, and it’s

a big­gie: you lose the com­fie. To avoid such calami­ties, many par­ents dou­ble up on com­fort items so they have a Plan B when Teddy gets left in the park. This is un­likely to work, warns Rosa. “The re­place­ment teddy does not have the same smell or wear and tear, so it lacks the psy­cho­log­i­cal com­fort that the orig­i­nal teddy gives a child.” She rec­om­mends ro­tat­ing the use of the two iden­ti­cal com­fort ob­jects so they de­velop sim­i­lar wear and smell.

“Chil­dren who do not have tran­si­tional ob­jects may use a dif­fer­ent road to­wards sep­a­ra­tion, per­haps re­ly­ing on lan­guage to com­mu­ni­cate their dis­tress or self-soothe through other means,” says Dr Smit. These ba­bies may use their moth­ers for longer, re­ly­ing on her to soothe their needs and in adult life may be less likely to turn to art or mu­sic for self-sooth­ing, re­ly­ing per­haps more on the pres­ence of ac­tual peo­ple, friends or sport to help them through dif­fi­cult pe­ri­ods. “This is be­cause tran­si­tional ob­jects also pro­vide a space for fan­tasy to en­ter the child’s world and play an im­por­tant role in imag­i­nary play.”

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