Each one of my children has a special blanket given to them at birth by my mother-in-law. While they obviously don't have a particular preference for their specific "lovey" at first, they have each come to grow incredibly attached to them over time. My toddler has just started latching on to his in the past few months, while my second grader still sleeps with his every single night. This wide age range of interest has me wondering, "When is a child too old for a lovey?" I took my question to a pediatrician to find out.
Dr. Jarret Patton laughed when he got my email, admitting that it was a topic of discussion in his own home as well. Why is the singling out of a special object such a universal experience for small children? Patton suggests that a lovey represents something the child cherishes and has a strong affinity towards, whether that be a relationship with the person who gave them the object, their perceived value, or even for no explainable reason.
As parents, we might begin to feel self-conscious of our child's seemingly infantile attachment to an object once we personally come to see them as "too old" to need it. But Patton believes there really is no single answer for everyone. "There is not a 'right' time for a child to be too old for a lovey," he tells Romper in an interview.
That being said, there is a time and a place for everything, and as they age, our children will surely encounter scenarios where it is not appropriate for them to be bringing in a blankie or teddy bear. It's our job as parents to help them gradually prepare themselves for new stages of development, and often that means a gradual weaning from things like loveys.
For children who demand to bring their special item with them at all times, Patton suggests that parents create a star chart to reward desirable behavior. The concept is simple, he explains. "To curtail the usage in public places, create a chart that rewards them for the desired behavior, which might be not taking the lovey to the store today. When the child gets five stars, they get a small reward."
Sounds simple enough, does it not? The idea is that eventually the child will come to realize that she can be successful at new endeavors on her own, without the help of a security item.
In his 15 years in pediatrics, Patton has observed that some children never completely grow out of their affection for a security blanket (or animal, or what have you.) Believe it or not, "I know many children that take their lovey off to college with them," he says. "They find it a way to bring a piece of home with them."
Now hopefully these college freshman aren't showing up in Psych 101 with their trusty panda bear under their arms, but there is something sweet about imagining my boys stuffing their old beloved blankets in the bottom of their dorm room sock drawer.
At the end of the day, Patton says, "Loveys are harmless and children outgrow them at their own pace." But what if you can't wait that long? "If you make them stop cold turkey, they will survive," he assures antsy parents, "But that lovey will always have a special place in their heart."
If readiness to separate is indicated by desire, I don't think any of my children are letting their blankies go anytime soon. And personally, I'm completely OK with that. They'll only be little once, and I want it to be as warm and safe an experience as possible. Because just like all of parenting, I'm learning that it's about their needs, not about how I feel it reflects on me.
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