Our 6-month old baby Alice is doing pretty well with sleep at home but seems to have trouble settling herself for naps at day care. We’ve read that she should have a “security object.” We’ve offered her several of the animal blankets that every other baby seems to like, but so far she doesn’t seem interested. Does it really make a difference? We want her to feel secure. What else can we do?
It’s true that some babies latch on to a soft blanket or stuffed animal and take great comfort from clutching it while they are falling asleep or feeling a bit of stress. The term “security object” is used because a baby associates the warm, cozy feelings of being held and cared for by her parent with an object that she can hold onto when her parent isn’t there with her. I like the term “lovey” because it is simpler and because for some children, “love” is the way they come to feel about the object.
You’ll also hear the term “transitional object” because older children often use the object to assist them during transitions from being awake to going to sleep or in moving from one setting to another. Many toddlers and older children choose a lovey that reminds them of babylike sensations such as sucking, smelling, or feeling a certain texture next to their faces. Blankets, stuffed animals, or even sweaters can become the object of a child’s affections and strong attachments.
A 6-month-old baby isn’t ready to transfer her feeling for her parents to a security object—she still has you. It’s OK if Alice isn’t interested—not all babies are. What babies usually do is make their own choices, associating the feelings of nursing or cuddling with an object that is nearby. That’s why a baby may reject a sweet little teddy bear and cling to mom’s T-shirt! Sometimes a pacifier or bottle accidentally becomes a security object and becomes important to a child for more than sucking or feeding needs. If Alice seems attached to these objects now, a blanket or bear might be a good substitute.
One way to encourage a lovey is to place a soft, thin but sturdy blanket over your shoulder during cozy cuddling times and feeding times. Place your baby’s hand on the edging, so that she’ll have a place to grab. After a while she will associate the feel and scent of the blanket with a secure and pleasant time. Don’t wash the blanket, since the comfort comes in part from its scent. If Alice gets attached to it, you can then try laundering it in plain water with a mild unscented soap. Since the lovey is treasured for its appearance, its feel, and its odor, you may find that you have to work out a compromise between hygiene and familiarity.
There are disadvantages to having a constantly available comfort object. If a baby becomes attached to a lovey, it can be tempting to give it to her every time you see her feeling sad or distressed. Rather than offering it immediately, wait for her to ask you for it by gesture or by looking around. Sometimes a baby needs to cry and get her comfort from you rather than a blanket. Most children will learn to cope with frustration and calm themselves with a little bit of help from a parent. A security object can be a helpful addition to the way a child learns to cope with feelings, but it doesn’t have to be the only way.
As far as settling for naps in day care, a lovey might help if that is already Alice’s habit at home. If not, you might want to compare all the other sleep habits from home to what is happening in day care. Sometimes a difference in light levels, background noise, or timing is the cause of nap difficulties in day care. The excitement and stimulation may cause a baby to stay awake too long before her nap and not appear tired until she’s overtired. If Alice is napping well at home, make sure that she has the same nap schedule in day care, at least for the first month or so.