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Surrendering the blankie: should parents insist?

QUESTION: I have a two-year-old daughter. She carries her security blanket everywhere she goes. We have tried encouragement, bribes and everything we can think of to get her to give up her "blankie." What can we do?

ANSWER: Security blankets, pacifiers, and favorite toy animals or dolls all serve as "transitional" objects for your toddler. The nature of these objects is to aid your two year old in becoming increasingly independent. The security blanket, literally, helps your daughter MAKE the transition towards greater independence. Do not rush this important process. It is not only a positive adaptation, but taking away the "blankie" prematurely may set your child back in terms of developing self-reliance.

Think a bit deeper about why you are so intent on wrestling this object of comfort from her, rather than waiting for her to relinquish it when she is ready. Does it embarrass you? Do you believe that it is a sign of "weakness" to show dependency in this way? If so, you are not alone. Our society is heavily saturated with over-valuing independence and even shaming us for having any dependency needs at all. In fact, this over emphasis on autonomy is at the heart of substance abuse (dependency on alcohol and drugs for self -soothing) which is so rampant for both teens and adults in our culture.

Your two year old is practicing independence by clinging to a comfort object, instead of you. This allows her to internalize the security she would ordinarily get from holding onto a parent figure. This is an age of great conflict, as a child both wants to develop independence, but very much needs to fall back on parents to be sure they are still there. Give her the time she needs to adapt to this transition by allowing her the security blanket she needs as a bridge to establishing an inner sense of security. Children need concrete objects to symbolize this process. They cannot think abstractly, but must experience objects as a replacement for parent presence. Your child's 'blankie" helps her soothe herself. This is a very necessary process. And cutting this process short, can spell trouble!

Taking your child's "blankie" away will only frustrate her dependency needs, and could lead to other unacceptable adaptations, such as thumb sucking. The danger also exists that not allowing her the transitional comfort object will leave her with unresolved anxiety, which will go underground. She may become more withdrawn, unable to take appropriate risks, and so less likely to pursue her interests.

Your daughter needs to explore the world and she needs her "blankie" (or some other transitional object) to be comfortable doing so. Do not frustrate her in her need for this security. She will let go of this dependency as it becomes internalized, likely within the next year or sooner. Her "blankie" will indeed become superfluous as her confidence develops. Rest assured that indulging her dependency needs now, is your greatest insurance that she will become independent later!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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