Lovies, binkies, blankies, security blankets, whatever you call them, are a little mysterious. Children often give them names, even stories, and adults don’t have access to this private world. But the lovey does impact the parents as well; has your child ever lost their lovey? That’s when you find out how truly important they are. But what are loveys? Why are they important? How do you, as a parent, use lovies for your child, and manage how your children use them?
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What is a Lovey?
A lovey is any blanket, toy, stuffed animal, or other object (and some children choose some truly strange objects) that a child forms a bond with and uses to self-soothe during times of stress. The lovey was thrust into the popular consciousness in the 1950’s, when Linus appeared in the Peanuts comic strip, carrying his blue security blanket. In fact, in an early strip, Charlie Brown is depicted with a blanket of his own, and explains to Lucy that it’s a “security and happiness blanket” “that all little kids carry.”
Lovies are indeed used for security. They’re a way for children to navigate stressful changes and new experiences (and to a little kid, lots of experiences are new!) independently of their parents. This fosters confidence and independence from their parents in managing their emotions, and that’s an important part of building their identity as an individual.
Children bond to these items, usually early on, around twelve months of age if an appropriate object is available to them. As they get older, they will create names and personalities for their lovey, and they will sometimes talk to their lovey. This is totally normal! The child is using their imagination to try to understand changes, new things, or strong emotions.
How Are Lovies Used?
There are lots of ways to use lovies, both for babies and parents. Children use them to act as a replacement for the comfort that parents can give them as they become more emotionally independent from their parents. They may also use them to cope with particular stressful situations, such as acting out a doctor’s visit with a beloved stuffed animal. Children use them to express and process big emotions, and you may see your child yelling at, punching, or throwing a lovey as a way to vent anger or frustration.
Parents use their child’s lovey as a way to comfort them when they are upset or frightened. Lovies can also help kids learn new things. Potty training? Maybe you could explain the potty to your child and then have them teach their lovey, up to having their lovey sit on the potty. This can help your child feel less alone and more secure as they venture into new territory. Parents also use lovies for sleep training infants; using the introduction of a lovey as a sleep cue helps babies develop a connection between the lovey and sleep, and helps them understand when it’s time to nap.
So lovies are extremely useful and very normal objects for babies and children, and there’s no reason to discourage your child from using their lovey.
History of Lovies
There’s no telling how long babies have been using lovies, but they were brought into the public consciousness in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip. The character Linus carried his beloved blue blanket everywhere with him. Originally the term “security blanket” referred to a product designed to keep babies secure in their crib; it covered the baby and attached to the crib with clips, thus keeping the baby secured. This use of security blankets is, of course, no longer recommended, and the current use of the term to describe a lovey is not related to that product; it entered popular usage after the Peanuts cartoon.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, a child’s attachment to a lovey was pathologized. It was thought to reflect a problem with bonding between the mother and child, for which the blame was placed on the mother.
It was also thought that the children who developed attachments to these objects were somehow more fearful or more anxious than their peers; recent research has shown that this is not the case.
In the United States, around 60% of children have some form of attachment to a special object.
The stigma against the use of lovies decreased throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and today, attachment to a lovie is seen as a normal and healthy part of child development.
It’s interesting to note that the use of lovies seems to be a culturally specific phenomenon. In the United States, around 60% of children have some form of attachment to a special object. We see similar rates of these kinds of attachments in the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden. But among Korean children, we see much lower rates of attachment; 18%. Koren born children living in the US, however, show higher rates of attachment than their counterparts in Korea at 32%, still significantly lower than American children.
There’s also sometimes an urban/rural divide. In Italy, children in rural areas show attachment rates of only 5%, compared to 31% of children in Rome.
Contrary to that, only 16% of children in London seem to become attached to inanimate objects. We’re still not really sure where these cultural differences come from.
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Are Lovies Safe for Babies?
The short answer is that lovies are absolutely safe for babies to have while they’re awake and supervised. For very young infants, snuggling with a lovey without supervision can pose a suffocation hazard. Very small infants may not have the strength or control of their limbs to move a lovey if it falls over their face. Because of this, you should never leave a lovey in the crib with them while they’re sleeping, though it’s fine to put the lovey in at bedtime and then remove it once the baby is asleep.
While they’re awake and supervised, loveys aren’t just safe, but they’re also beneficial to babies. Not only do they provide comfort and security, but the textures the baby feels on the lovey help develop their tactile sense, and attempts to grab and move their lovey help strengthen their limbs and develop motor skills.
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What Do You Need in a Lovey?
There are a few characteristics you want to look for when selecting a lovey for your child.
- Most Lovies Are Soft - Children who develop attachments to comfort objects almost always choose soft objects. This is especially important when introducing a lovey for an infant, as they can injure themselves with hard toys and generally don’t prefer them. Some children attach to hard toys, but not very many; around 14%.
- Your Lovey Should be Easy to Wash - Let’s face it; any toy that’s precious to a baby or toddler is going to get dirty. It will get stains from food, from being dragged around the house (and even outside of the house), and from being handled by kids with dirty hands. So you’ll want to choose one that’s eithermachine washable or easy to spot clean.
- Loveys Should be Small - Your child may attach to a lovey in infancy, so a lovey should be small enough for them to manage. As your child grows, you’ll want their lovey to be portable, so that your child can carry their friend with them.
- Faces Are Good - Babies recognize the pattern of facial features within the first three months, earlier than they recognize any other object or pattern! By month two, babies can recognize their primary caregivers’ faces. Even newborns, with their limited eyesight, seem to prefer looking at faces over other objects. Your child’s lovey having a face can help them bond with it, although children often bond with objects without faces too.
- Lovies Should Have Multiple Textures - As an infant, children establish patterns in their brain that support future learning, and the best way to help them do that is to provide sensory stimulation. Lovies should have multiple textures for baby to feel and explore, and these textures should be pleasant to a baby’s sensitive skin.
- Lovies Must be Baby Safe - As tempting as it might be to offer your own beloved stuffed animal to your baby, remember that a lovey should have no hard plastic parts that may come off and be a choking hazard. They should also not have loops that can become caught around a baby’s neck, head, or limbs.
Lovies for Sleep Training
Perhaps the most common way for parents to use their child’s attachment to a lovey is through sleep training. Sleep training is a collection of methods used to help teach a baby how to sleep on their own, so that they don’t require the presence of a parent to go to sleep. One of the ways you can teach babies to sleep on their own is to begin to develop sleep associations with the baby; sensory inputs that the baby comes to associate with sleep. When successful, this kind of training can result in the baby using these sensory cues to fall asleep on their own.
Loveys are useful for this kind of training because they stimulate the sense of sight, the tactile sense, and their sense of smell. Another useful sensory cue might be a soft musical mobile over their crib, or a white noise generator. The more sensory cues the baby has that it’s sleep time, the better their chances of being able to sleep on their own.
For safety reasons, once your baby is asleep, you should remove the lovey from the crib.
Placing the lovey in the crib when it’s sleep time can help the baby sleep, but the lovey then must only be presented at those times, so that the association with sleep remains strong. For this reason, it may make sense for you to have two loveys for your baby; one that is for playing with and one that they use only when it’s time to sleep.
Remember, this can be used not just for sleeping at night, but also to establish a regular nap routine.
For safety reasons, once your baby is asleep, you should remove the lovey from the crib, especially if it is a blanket type of lovey that could cover your baby’s face while they sleep. If they wake up in the middle of the night, you can present the lovey again, until your baby goes back to sleep.
Remember that a lovey is just one tool in sleep training, and that not all sleep training methods work for all babies. If using a lovey doesn’t help your child to sleep, that’s okay. Try a different sleep training method, and remember that your child’s lovey can still be their friend and companion.
Also recognize that the goal of sleep training is not to get a baby to sleep through the night. This is not developmentally appropriate, especially for young babies. They will still wake up in the night to eat and even to practice new skills, like moving themselves around. The goal is that when a baby needs to sleep, they learn how to sleep on their own.
It may help for a parent to hold the lovey against them for an hour or so a day, so that the lovey smells like the parent. This may make the toy more comforting to your baby, and make it easier for them to sleep on their own.
What if My Child Doesn’t Attach to a Lovey?
While it’s totally normal and healthy for a child to attach to a lovey, and to use it as a comfort object, if your child doesn’t attach to a lovey there’s no reason to be concerned. Some children just do not develop this kind of attachment to objects. As many as a third of children don’t attach to a comfort object, and that’s okay.
You can’t force your child to attach to a lovey, and you can’t pick what kind of lovey your child attaches to. The best you can do is to give them objects that they may attach to, but some children attach to things like pillowcases and napkins, and some just won’t attach to a comfort object at all. This is normal.
Your child may have different ways to self-soothe in times of stress or fear. All babies are individuals, little people, and each will choose their own way to take care of themselves as they grow. Make lovies available to a child, but don’t worry if the bond doesn’t form.
What Happens if My Child Loses a Lovey?
Losing a lovey can be painful, for both the child and their parents. Parents may weather tantrums, while at the same time not understanding where all of these strong emotions their child is feeling are coming from.
Remember, a lovey is a friend. Your child uses their lovey to get through difficult or stressful experiences, to relieve anxiety, and to explore and process their own feelings. Losing that friend can be frightening, and when parents downplay the importance of their lovey, children may feel ignored, betrayed, and misunderstood.
Approach the situation with care and understanding. Recognize that the feelings your child is having aren’t wrong or bad, and rather than trying to quell the emotional response, seek solutions. Help your child look for the lovey. Suggest places where the lovey might be.
It may be that the lovey is well and truly gone. Maybe it was left behind at a store, or forgotten on the roof of the car. In these situations, it’s vital to remind yourself that a lovey has its own unique story, name, and personality. It can’t be replaced with another that simply looks the same.
Explain to your child that the lovey is gone, and allow them to express themselves as they grieve for their friend. Help them name and process their feelings. Ask them if they’re ready to find a new friend, and enlist them to help you pick one out.
This is a process that may take days or weeks. Your child will likely not be ready to pick out a new lovey right away, and may react with anger if you encourage them to. When they’re ready, make sure they know you’re there to help them.
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When Will My Child be Done With Their Lovey?
This, again, is a matter of the individual child. Most children are done with their lovey by around five or six years of age. They won’t suddenly put down their lovey one day; they’ll start to forget to bring their lovey with them when they play or leave the house. They won’t need the lovey as much, so that bond is going to naturally evaporate. But keep in mind, this is a gradual process, and even if your child hasn’t used their lovey for days, they may pick it back up for a particularly stressful time in their lives, and then put it back down after a while.
If your child abandons their lovey earlier or later, there’s no cause for concern. Your child will pick when they are ready, based on whether they have the skills to cope with the many changes that life presents. A lovey doesn’t prevent these skills from developing, rather they’re a method children use to learn those skills. Different children learn in different ways and at different speeds, so rather than focusing on what’s “normal,” understand that your child is an individual and will decide when to set their friend aside.
Some people keep their lovies into adulthood, but of course no longer bring their friends everywhere with them.
The point is that you shouldn’t discourage your child from using their lovey, or try to make them abandon their lovey. Your child’s lovey is beneficial to them, and there’s no reason to take it away.
So you can see, the use of lovies or other comfort objects is completely normal for children, and there’s no reason to worry about it. In fact, encouraging your child to select and attach to a lovey may set them up for success as they grow. The world around them is exciting and full of new things and experiences, and is sometimes scary. A lovey is a friend just for them to help them face these new experiences!