Comfort objects are sometimes called transitional objects, security objects, lovies, blankies or other made-up names. Usually babies between 9 and 12 months choose their comfort objects and once chosen, the object may be a part of the family for years to come.
A small child's attachment to his comfort object is healthy and can help maintain a feeling of security. The comfort object is actually an important social contact for your young child. He may also develop a strong attachment to a blanket, soft toy, or some other cuddly inanimate thing that he attaches some of the same feelings for as he would to an important person in his life. Psychologists call this prized toy or blanket a transitional object. Not only is such an attachment normal, it is often encouraged by experts to maintain a child's sense of security as he encounters new situations. That sense of security may bolster the child's confidence in new environments. An attachment to a comfort object is not a sign of weakness. Instead, this attachment helps a baby learn about controlling his own comfort when he is apart from his primary caregiver. The comfort object enables a child to find comfort anywhere be it going to sleep, spending time away from mom, experiencing upset or in a strange new place. It reminds the baby of his mom or dad and reassures him of their love.
Some children discover, either through encouragement or necessity, that cuddling a blanket, toy or other common object reminds them of the warm feelings he and his parents have for each other. Soon, he begins to realize that cuddling a blanket can bring him a feeling of comfort and safety when mom and dad are busy or not there. He may even come to rely on this important tool when he's tired, ill or under stress.
There are a few things you can do to promote comfort objects. Remember, not all children will be interested in forming such an attachment but for those who are, it can be a rewarding experience.
Encourage your baby to choose the comfort object on his own. When you notice that a particular toy, blanket or other object (some children develop attachments to mittens, handkerchiefs, silky underwear, cotton balls or other random objects), offer the same object whenever he is upset or needs comfort.
Develop a bedtime ritual that includes the comfort object. For example, say "Let's get Teddy. It's time for bed now."
Don't hide or deny the use of a comfort object and never use it as a reward or punishment. Never take out your anger on the comfort object (i.e. giving Teddy timeouts, etc.).
Show your baby where to keep his comfort object when it's not being used so that he is able to locate it readily whenever he needs it. Typically, this object is most cherished during periods of transition such as leaving home for daycare. The comfort object reminds him that he can make himself feel safer and be in control of his feelings. Helping your child learn to understand those feelings is the next major function of the transitional object. Love and anger, willfulness and neediness are big emotions for a small child to attempt to understand, and trying these feelings out on parents can be too scary. Testing these emotions on a stuffed animal or a rag doll makes the child feel safer. While comfort objects are indeed healthy and beneficial, some children do not develop such an attachment. Both preferences are normal and you can't instill an attachment of this sort on a child who doesn't seem to want one. Neither should you discourage the use of a comfort object or force the child to relinquish the object before he is ready. Typically children relinquish their comfort objects between age three and five.