My three and a half-year-old son has a blankie. I didn’t even know what that was until one of my mom friends found him sucking/sniffing/snuggling at his baby blanket and said, “Your son has a blankie,” giggling hysterically.
I went into defense mode. My son was not damaged or something for sniffing a piece of cloth whenever he was distracted, was he?
The next time it was my aunt who was visiting and saw the boy, then one, carrying his baby blanket around. She told me she knew another toddler who was always attached to her baby blanket as well, but she thought it was because this particular baby had been left to be raised by her grandma at the age of two months.
Now I knew I was a bad mom. What did my son’s blankie say about my parenting? Had I not let him get attached to me well enough? Had I left him at home when he was too young to go back to work? Did my househelp leave him to cry alone for long periods that he had to find comfort in his blanket? At least I knew I hadn’t stopped breastfeeding him before he was ready as he breastfed till he was two years and two months.
I went to google and luckily, was appeased by all the posts by mums and paeditricians who said it was normal for children to have comfort items. Some mums even encouraged it. The blankies, they said, helped the children self soothe and transition from being always attached to mum, to being sort-of independent in a big big big world for little people.
I noticed my son sniffing at his baby blanket when he was around five months old. Whenever he was hungry or sleepy, he would turn inward to the blanket or shawl he was wrapped in and start sniffing at it. I took that as the cue that he wanted a feed.
This continued as he grew older, and whenever he was sleepy or hungry, he would turn to fleece clothing items (the same materials as his pajamas) and sniff/lick them — he puts out his tongue, then puts the cloth between his mouth and nose; he’s even tried teaching me how to do it but I don’t get it.
He’s three and half now, and he takes his “nguo ya kunyonya” to bed with him. It’s also the first thing he looks for whenever he gets upset, tired, sleepy or hungry. He however never takes it out of the house, so clearly it is something he associates with being at home. When we are in the car, he will take his baby sister’s blanket or tug at the arm of his t-shirt.
Some children find comfort in the pacifier or the thumb. Some in a special stuffed animal or baby blanket. And the attachment is unbelievable.
At the time when I was very worried about my son’s habit, I spoke to two moms who assured me that I was normal behavior.
Mercy Ben told me her three year old son walked around with a big duvet that he used when seating on the couch.
Hope Kamau said her two-year-old was always thumb-sucking whenever she was tired or distracted.
Early childhood development experts say security blankets are transitional objects that mean “comfort” for your child. They help a child separate himself from his mother. They are normal and natural. This is what baby turns to in the middle of the night or wakes up to. The baby soon becomes attached to the object and the comfort and familiarity they bring.
“If a baby is securely attached to their blankie or lovey, instead of crying out and needing mom or dad to comfort him back to sleep, he will find his beloved blankie, snuggle with it, sniff it, rub it on his face, and/or suck on it, and go back to sleep. This is your baby using his blankie to self soothe,” writes Linda Szmulewitz of sleeptightconsultants.com.
“If your baby has already attached himself to an object (it doesn’t have to be a blankie, it can be an object like a stuffed animal–it should be something small though that is easy to hold in their little hand and has no removeable parts like eyes that could come off), great. Go with it,” she says.
Linda advises that a blankie should stay in the child’s room for sleeping time, to help with the association with sleep as well as for easy location when it is time for bed.
“The only places that our blankie goes outside the house are to the doctor (when my kids were really little and needed extra comfort) or in the carry-on bag of luggage when we go on an airplane,” says Linda.
But Peggy of the the Primal Parent blog gives a warning.
“Essentially, the reason children adopt the transitional object in the first place is because it relieves stress. But wait a minute. Stress? Really? Beyond the transitional period of separation from the parent and the developing concept of “not me” why is the little baby so stressed out?
“Because the world is big and scary and unknown and dark and noisy… While these are pretty legitimate stressors for a child, a parent should consider if there are other significant stressors in the child’s life such as mom going away to work after a few weeks or months, the disappearance of familiar things or people, parents who fight or are stressed out themselves.”
So encourage more attachment with your children and reduce stress in the home.
But can a comfort habit become a problem?
“If it’s just a little much-cuddled blanket or soft toy, your only real worry will be trying to get the stinking article in the washing machine sometimes, or if it’s unique, what you’re going to do about it when it gets lost. And eventually – years on – there’s the possibility that it will cause you a little embarrassment or difficulty if they’re still trailing it round at school-age and need to be dissuaded from taking it in to the classroom with them,” writes Hollie Smith, a mom blogger.
Pacifiers and thumbs are, however, a little different as longterm use can cause teeth misalignment and could hinder speech as the child always has something I his mouth hence has no time to practise talking,
My conclusion from all the reading up I did is that there is no compelling reason to take away my son’s “nguo za kunyonya”. And there’s no reason to become alarmed that at three years, he still needs his blankie to fall asleep. He will give it up on his own as he grows older (usually at around age five) and even if he doesn’t, at that age we can negotiate. If he can separate himself from his beloved PJ trousers or top while he is in school, he will learn to do so even at night, with time. Right now, those pieces of clothing help him cope with big emotions like hunger and sleep and it’s fine.
As Dr Sears, the renown American child development specialist says: “Let your child enjoy her “blanky” as long as she wishes. Don’t worry that her attachment to her blanket may reveal some underlying insecurities or may slow her independence. This is simply not true. An attachment to her blanket is not only normal, it’s healthy. The ability to form deep attachments is one of the most important emotional qualities you want to help your child develop. As children are learning to attach to people, they also like to attach to things, and this attachment to people and things will help your child ease into independence.
Dr Sears says: “Security blankets cause no emotional or physical harm. Besides you don’t want to teach your child that attachments are easily disposable. The most secure children I’ve ever seen are those who are not weaned from any object or person of attachment before their time. Allow her the luxury of her soft friend. Don’t worry; she is unlikely to drag it down the aisle on her wedding day.”