Sometimes toddlers act out because they’re tired or hungry. But their actions also could be a reflection of confusion over changes in their world and not knowing how to respond. Help your toddler adjust to transitions in the day-to-day and with personal items:
Security Blankets and Stuffed Animals
“This blanket is a necessity. It keeps me from cracking up. . . . Without it, I’d be nothing, a ship without a rudder.” —Linus Van Pelt, A Boy Named Charlie Brown
If you have a toddler or preschooler, there’s a good chance he or she has a special relationship with a blanket, stuffed animal or some other inanimate object.
Research conducted at the University of Wisconsin found that security blankets are appropriately named; they actually do provide a feeling of security for children. The research also showed there is nothing abnormal about this. In fact, about 60 percent of children in the U.S. have at least some attachment to a comfort object.
In the 1940s, pediatrician Donald Winnicott introduced the concept of the “transitional object.” Winnicott theorized that as a baby matures, he begins to realize that he and his mother are separate entities — “me” and “not me.” He also begins to experience anxiety when separated from her. This anxiety can be alleviated with a transitional object such as a stuffed animal or security blanket.
Children eventually outgrow their need for a transitional object, although as Linus found in the Peanuts comic strip, going cold turkey can be tough. So don’t force your child to give up her “blankie” or “lovey” before she’s ready.
—Dr. Bill Maier
Every afternoon at 5:30 we faced the same crisis. My husband, Mike, would arrive home from work and our son, Nathaniel, would begin to wail. This created more chaos than I could manage while preparing dinner for our family of five.
Nathaniel loved to play with Daddy. I knew their time together was the highlight of Nathaniel’s day, so I didn’t understand his reaction. I didn’t know what to do to improve our situation.
After trying everything I could think of to make Mike’s homecoming less traumatic for all of us, I decided to give Nathaniel a 10-minute warning that Daddy was coming home. Amazingly, this advance notice worked like a soothing tonic. I discovered that my son needed a transition between his quiet playtime (which is what he did while I prepared dinner) and the more intense playtime with Daddy. As soon as Nathaniel knew what to expect, the anxiety that was brought on by sudden change disappeared, and he began to look forward to Dad’s arrival.
I learned to apply this principle in other areas of parenting. Instead of telling Nathaniel it was time to leave the park or a friend’s house, I would give him a brief warning. Whenever someone was coming over or leaving, or we were about to change activities, I would prepare him and give him time to adjust. I smoothed out the transitions for my son. This tiny adjustment created a more peaceful world for Nathaniel, and my husband is greeted by a joyful son.