Finding comfort in a familiar friend

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of reading through dozens of essay contest submissions for our fourth annual contest, in which I asked kids and teens to answer the question: “What is your most prized possession?”    

I expected to read about tablets or cell phones, a PS4, Beats headphones — any technology you see on the ears and in front of the eyes of kids.

So I was surprised that I did not receive an entry that mentioned anything with Apple or Samsung in the name. 

The items kids wrote about were sentimental and ranged from a Bible to a dollhouse to pets — dogs, cats, horses, even a rabbit.

But what was talked about most by our young writers was their stuffed animal. Like the live versions, the ones of the stuffed variety include a number of species — from dogs to bears to frogs. Doggy, Teddy and Froggy are beloved by their owners. They go where their owners go, are well cared for, and in some cases are basically a member of the family.

I couldn’t help but smile as I read these stories. I, too, had a stuffed bear named, yes, Teddy. He was made of dark brown fabric and he had a yellow tummy, a piece of red felt for his tongue, and a random button sewn on for an eye — a repair my mother must have made while on staff at the animal hospital.

I had many stuffies, but Teddy was the original go-to for comfort. No matter what changed in my life, he was there.

Psychologists have a term for stuffed animals — transitional objects. The object doesn’t have to be a stuffed animal; it can be anything — a blanket, a piece of clothing, a doll. The child chooses it, assigns special value to it and it comforts and soothes child as they separate from their mother. Later in life, it becomes a keepsake that brings an older child back to a comforting, familiar place. These transitional objects play an important role in a child’s emotional development.

Doggy, Teddy and Froggy are more than toys; they ground children and give them a sense of connection and safety as they grow.

If your child is still insisting you make a space at the dinner table for their friend and put their friend in the shopping cart at the store and cry like hell when their friend is accidentally left behind, remember that it’s all part of healthy development.  

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