From the baby shower onwards, children start to amass their own special collection of not just teddy bears, but a whole menagerie of plush and fluffy toys. Cute as they are, these can also turn out to be some of the most significant objects in their lives, not just in the early years but all the way into adulthood.
Maybe you’ve even got some of your old childhood favorites at home somewhere. Now just think about how special they are to you – they might even feel like some of the most precious things that you own.
Yes, they have sentimental value that helps you look back to your own childhood and the seemingly carefree and innocent days before you had to worry about things like paying bills and what to cook for dinner, but psychologically-speaking, they’re far more significant than that.
The transitional object
It might sound a little cold and scientific, but that cuddly koala or loveable lion is what child development experts call a transitional object. It’s called transitional because it helps a child to move on from being dependent on parents and carers to reaching a state of independence in which they can look after themselves.
The transitional object does this by giving the feeling of familiarity and safety in previously unexperienced situations, and it does this in a number of sensory ways. Firstly, that toy will have a familiar smell to it, a smell of home and the people who live there. They are the thing that children always reach for when they are ill and, because they also tend to be soft and pleasant to touch, fluffy toys can give comfort in this way too, even for adults.
Of course, transitional objects don’t have to be toys, they can be almost anything at all from a scarf or another item of clothing to a piece of material. Maybe the most famous of all transitional objects is the security blanket carried everywhere by Linus in the Snoopy cartoons or, a little more unconventionally, Joey’s ‘Hugsy’ in the TV series, Friends.
Even if, as adults, like Joey, we might have consciously put aside those transitional objects that saw us mature from childhood, the memory of them still has a strong emotional pull for us.
The power of memory
One only has to look at how catching sight of an old teddy bear in the back of the closet can take us back to our childhood. Or, when we play a game that features the sorts of toys we might have won at fairs like the Fluffy Favourites slot online, it has far greater emotional resonance for us than we might ever have expected.
Naturally, as parents, we’re only too aware of just how important these objects are to our children by remembering what a disaster it seems like when we lose one on a trip to the store or while traveling. But maybe it’s also time to recognize the role they play in helping our children grow up to be capable, responsible adults who are secure in their place in the world.
And, when you put it like that, it’s a very long way from just being child’s play.