The Quest for the Perfect “Blankie”: Why Self-Soothing Is So Critical

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Remember back to your childhood, and that [blanket/stuffed animal/toy/soft object] that was your absolute go-to in times of distress? I bet if you pull up an image of that object in your mind, even today, you’ll still experience those same warm, comforting feelings you came to rely on in your early years (or now, no judgment!). This is the amazing and mysterious power of the childhood “transitional object” (as they say in the biz, which I should mention is clinical psychology, in my case).

Laura & Liz 8-23-87An aside: My transitional object growing up was “Blankie”- a soft, yellow, waffle-textured and satin lined masterpiece to which many an 80’s kid will relateAt the risk of divulging too much, I must admit that Blankie is still in my possession. But, fear not, I’ve developed a few more mature self-soothing techniques over the years since Blankie and I were inseparable.

Which brings me to an important point about all transitional objects: They play a critical role in the development of children’s emotional regulation skills! So critical, in fact, that even the American Academy of Pediatrics endorses their use stating, “Despite myths to the contrary, transitional objects are not a sign of weakness or insecurity, and there’s no reason to keep your child from using one. In fact, a transitional object can be so helpful that you may want to help him choose one and build it into his nighttime ritual.”

And while many parents worry about their children becoming dependent on these objects to the point that teddy bear is attending college courses with their 19-year-old, the reality is that’s rarely, if ever, the case (the movie Ted notwithstanding). The purpose of these objects is to help children calm their wild, unregulated emotions as they progressively gain skills for self-soothing that are not accessible to their immature little brains in the early years. These objects are, by nature, transitional. This means the Blankies of the world naturally become less important over time as other strategies like mental reasoning, going to the gym, and calling a friend are learned and become more feasible. Not to mention, moms also have social pressure on their side. Ever see anyone bring a stuffed bunny to their high school prom? I rest my case.

So let’s talk self-soothing for a moment. The psychology term for this is “coping skills.” Lacking effective skills for coping with the inevitable ups and downs of life spells almost certain disaster for emotional health. Poor coping skills are also strongly linked with the development and maintenance of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, personality disorders, and many others. And it’s worth noting that ineffective self-soothing also does a number on our relationships. Ugh. So, it goes without saying that developing positive and healthy ways to calm our emotional storms is pretty darn critical to our kids and ourselves living healthy and happy.

FullSizeRender (4)Which brings me to my “Quest.” My seven-month-old son has taken quite a shine to what’s left of Blankie: a faded, hole-speckled, satin-less shell of its former self. Blankie plays a starring role in our favorite peek-a-boo game, “Where’s Christopher?!” and is the lead actor in a game I like to call “Grab it, Christopher, Grab it!” While I entertained fantasies of my son loving on the same blanket I did growing up, it’s unlikely that Blankie has the stamina and thread strength for another 30+ years, particularly given the early years of “hard use.” So I set out to find a replacement.

Research on the net confirmed that Blankie was a genuine Baby Morgan blanket that is no longer in production and unconscionably expensive on EBay. But, thanks to the throng of 80’s kids turned parents, there is at least one company producing knock-offs that, at $13 a pop, allowed this mama to buy TWO new Blankies for one very excited Christopher (satin-trim and all!). If your mom friends haven’t already suggested it, let me encourage the purchase of two identical transitional objects if you ever plan to wash one without a major meltdown.

Quest complete and new Blankies in hand, I took a moment to reflect on the value of my old, tattered one and thought instantly of Linus, that Peanuts character perpetually dragging his blanket behind himLee Mendelson, the producer for many a Peanuts TV special has said, “My favorite character is Linus. He made sucking your thumb and holding a security blanket okay. I think he’s one of the most original fictional characters of all time — blending childish behavior with great wisdom.” It seems Linus had a rare insight into child development all along. So, in tribute to Linus, the Peanuts character well on his way to developing effective coping, happy soothing!

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Graduate school brought Laura from her beloved home state of Colorado to Texas (hard to beat the Rocky Mountains!), and meeting her beloved husband Jonathan convinced her to settle here. Now the two are overjoyed and exhausted parents to sweet Christopher (2015) and a little girl on the way (2017). In addition to her role as a mama, she also works full time as a clinical psychologist working with military veterans who continue to amaze her with their strength and humor. When she’s not busy juggling career and parenthood, you can find her cycling, enjoying local culture (and food!), baking, “hiking,” and embracing her love of travel.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I have been searching for the very same blanket for a year! Is the one you found brushed thermal or just cotton thermal?

    • Hi Sheri! The one I found is cotton thermal (I think)- found at Dillard’s. It’s not as soft/thick as I recall mine being (in the old days), but then I’m not sure if it just got softer over time, love, and lots of washes. The Dillard’s replica isn’t perfect (as in it’s not a genuine Baby Morgan blanket), but it will do for now and was in the right price range 🙂 I love that you had the same blanket- they are amazing!

  2. I slept with my blankie until my son was born, it was made for me by my grandma and then I hid it in my drawer for special times. I made my 3 kids their blankies, satin on one side and minkie on the other and just the right size for snuggling, and each is a different color. They all are perfectly attached to them. Blankie a are wonderful and it’s hard to get the perfect one.

    • Blankies really are a powerful and magical thing, aren’t they? I’m sure your kids feel the same way, especially knowing that their mom sewed them special for each of them! I think if we polled for adult blankie usage we would find that it’s surprisingly (and wonderfully) higher than we might expect 🙂

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