Whether it’s frayed, ripe-smelling, or both, your child’s lovey may evoke thoughts like these: Is she too old to be carrying around a bunny? Should I wash it? Should I get rid of it? Before you decide, consider what a lovey means to your child.
As a newborn, your baby finds the softness of a lovey soothing — even more so when it’s coupled with thumb-sucking or cuddling with his mother. Soon he learns to press it against his cheek and chew on it to help him relax. Little by little, the comforting power of the lovey extends beyond the sensory experience to the memories he associates with it.
Your toddler needs his lovey to help him through his upsets. When he hits the stage where he wants to do everything “all by myself,” his lovey becomes a tool he can use to comfort himself as he develops more independence. At about 15 months, toddlers gain the ability to view objects as symbols, and that lovey comes to represent the love and care you’ve given him that he can take along when you’re not present. Your child’s relationship with his lovey reinforces the good and hopeful feelings you’ve given him, feelings he’ll need in the future to get through the scrapes and stumbles in life that you can’t protect him from.
Watch as your little one nurtures her lovey, giving it the love you give her and holding it tightly for moral support as she grows into a big girl. If she doesn’t need it anymore, she’s likely to give it up on her own. If not, no harm done.
Joshua Sparrow, M.D., is director of strategy, planning, and program development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, Children’s Hospital, Boston.