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Binkies, blankies and loveys: understanding security items

Many parents question their child's reliance on a particular item or find security items a nuisance. Forgetting to pack his stuffed lion for a sleepover at Grandma's or not having an extra pacifier for a long day of errands can be a recipe for disaster.

It can be difficult to understand why he needs a specific dog or pillow for every nap or at bedtime. In a room filled with toys and child-friendly objects, insisting on a certain blanket or toy can seem as though your child is trying to avoid going to sleep. In reality, young children are not exercising a hidden ability to manipulate the situation or cause an unnecessary scene in the mall. They are trying to quash rising feelings of stress, and crying for a pacifier is the only avenue his immature communication skills know to convey the message.

While not all children use pacifiers to soothe themselves or need a tattered receiving blanket in order to fall asleep, the fact is nearly all children depend on some type of comfort item. It may be a routine, smell or sound that he finds comforting. A child may equate the chimes of a grandfather clock he hears at a friend's house with the one at his home. He may use a stuffed animal as a symbol that ties him to his home and parents.

Children see security items as dual-functioning objects. A bottle not only provides sustenance for a tot, it quickly triggers his suckling instinct and calms his anxiety. A pillow offers more than comfort during sleep; it brings a piece of his bed to his aunt's house for an overnight visit.

Knowing why your child is drawn to security items, and how they help him build the ability to calm himself in the next stages of his life, give you insightful wisdom into your baby's life. Realizing the similarities in the actions of you and your baby provides clarity for parents confused by their child's dependency on a seemingly irrelevant item.

You have a lot in common with your baby

When adults feel emotionally wounded or taxed, they go in search of comfort. Whether consciously or subconsciously, you may go for a run, call a friend or sit down to gather your thoughts and regroup in a favorite quiet spot. You derive security from coming home after a long and trying day. Revisiting a favorite childhood haunt sends memories flooding back and creates a nostalgic and warming feeling.

The calmness or refuge you glean from the reassuring words of a good friend is similar to what your baby receives from cuddling up with his blanket. Wrapping comforting words around your stress mimics your baby's actions of wrapping his blanket around himself in order to feel comfortable in strange surroundings or to fall asleep.

Introducing security alternatives

Although it can be comforting as your baby grows, carrying around a blanket may be difficult or impede his social development. Preschool pals may not understand his use of a pacifier, or a hectic morning may result in forgetting to pack an emergency bottle for a child who otherwise no longer uses bottles. The risk of losing or leaving behind his security item increases as a child carries it from place to place. Forgetting to toss an extra pacifier in your bag or the absence of a diaper bag to stash his animal can cause the onset of an emotional outburst from your child.

Helping a baby transition from binkies and blankets to the ability to tap into an inner sense of calm is something that requires patience and stamina. Weaning him from a security item is similar to potty training. You have to be consistent while expecting setbacks.

Some children find that phasing out a stuffed animal is easier when done in baby steps, while others find a quick and complete removal best. You can test the waters if you're not sure which method you child is better suited for. If he's become accustomed to pacifiers or bottles, choose a day that you can be at home and devote attention to your baby. Remove the pacifiers from his sight and reach, and conduct your day as normal.

If out-of-sight, out-of-mind is working semi-smoothly, you're already on the way to helping him break the dependency. If he's excessively or unusually irritable or inconsolable, you're going to have to ease him at a slower pace. Offering alternatives to his habits such as only allowing a pacifier in bed, or insisting that his blanket stays in his room, helps him grow accustomed to calming himself while still preserving the sanctity of the item for "special occasions."

Even though you may not fully know if he understands, reiterating, "Your teddy bear will be waiting for you at home," or "Binkies are only for bedtime," will begin to become familiar. He'll realize that if he is upset at home, he can make the decision to seek comfort in his room. This is an important first step toward independent soothing.

Substituting a bottle and some cuddle time while reading a book with you can also help his mood and offer comfort. While your child once looked forward to a bottle at bed time, he will now anticipate the chance to spend soothing time with you. You can occupy your baby by singing songs in the car instead of using a pacifier to quiet him after a busy day.

Keep in mind that it is natural and normal for your little one to draw comfort from a variety of sources. In fact, introducing your baby to a number of different ways to self-soothe will teach him valuable lessons he'll be able to use for a lifetime.

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