The loss of that lovey would be significant. (Photo: Getty Images)
Any parent who has experienced a moment of panic when it’s bedtime and their child’s lovey is missing, knows how incredibly important these beloved objects are.
Whether it’s a tattered blanket, a well-loved stuffed animal, or one of those animal-blanket hybrids, loveys are usually soft, plush objects that children can easily cuddle up to, starting as early as 6 months old. Some kids only use their loveys during naps and bedtime, while others insist on taking their loveys everywhere they go.
Although some parents may worry about their child being so attached to an object, having a lovey is actually a normal, healthy part of development. In fact, these objects play a key role in a child’s life, providing comfort when they’re upset or anxious, giving them a sense of security as they gain independence, and acting as a soothing substitute when you’re not around. “If a mother [or father] is gone, you can bring that soothing feeling back with an object,” Helen Resneck-Sannes, a licensed psychologist in Santa Cruz, California, tells Yahoo Parenting.
Loveys — well, at least the unwashed ones — also carry familiar scents — of their mothers, their bedrooms, even themselves — which have a soothing effect on a child.
Research shows that loveys are effective tools when it comes to reducing stress. In a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 3-year-old children were brought for an examination at the pediatrician’s office. The researchers then created different scenarios with toddlers who were both attached and not attached to a comfort blanket. For example, having the mom leave the room for the rest of the exam after giving the child their comfort blanket or having the mom stay in the room but keeping the blanket hidden. Then the children’s heart rate and blood pressure were assessed to determine stress levels. In the toddlers who were attached to a comfort blanket, the researchers found that they were equally soothed by either their blanket or by their own mother.
While no one knows why children are drawn to a particular object, we do know that a lovey choice can’t be forced. Even if you or another relative introduces an object you hope your little one will gravitate towards, the child makes the ultimate decision whether that object becomes a lovey or is just another stuffed animal or basic blanket. “You can keep giving [a lovey] to them, but on some level, they have to choose it,“ says Resneck-Sannes.
For some mysterious reason, loveys posses a vitality and essence that other objects, however often they’re played with, don’t have. "It’s personalization — the objects are real to them,” says Resneck-Sannes.
And children are fiercely loyal to their loveys. In a study published in the journal Cognition, kids ages 3 to 6 were told their toys, including their comfort object, could be put in a special “machine” that could create an identical duplicate.
“When offered the choice of originals and copies, children showed no preference for duplicates of their toys unless the object to be copied was the special one that they took to bed every night,“ co-author Bruce Hood, PhD, of the University of Bristol in the U.K., tells ScienceDaily. "A quarter of children refused to have their favorite object copied at all, and most of those who were persuaded to put their toy in the copying machine wanted the original back.”
The emotional connection to loveys can even continue into adulthood. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture asked adults in their 20s to destroy a photo of their childhood object. Results showed that people experienced significant psychological stress during the task, compared to when they cut up pictures of other valuable objects, such as their wallet or cell phone.
"Those attachments are the basis of security, trust, and self-soothing,” says Resneck-Sannes. “You never outgrow your attachment.”
That said, don’t worry if your child isn’t attached to any one particular object. “It’s perfectly normal for a child not to have a lovey,” Emma Jenner, child development and behavioral specialist, tells The Stir. “Some children develop that attachment; some children do not.”