When my 15-year-old was younger, she brought her beloved stuffed animals on trips – but refused to fully zip any suitcase holding them. After all, they might suffocate.
Other kids, real and fictional, also bond with their cuddly friends. Remember Calvin (a 6-year-old boy) and Hobbes (his stuffed tiger)? Hobbes was inanimate when adults were around – but chatty and mobile when alone with his human pal.
Not surprisingly, these fuzzy friends are harder to give away than, say, outgrown clothes. "I would feel bad to get rid of them," says my daughter. "They're so cute, and I have memories attached to them."
Should she part with any or all of the few dozen stuffed animals ensconsed in her small bedroom? To find out, I checked with some of my favorite experts. Excerpts:
"My mom still has some, and she turned 80 today. I still have some lining my bedroom bookshelf. Part of it is they were given to me by mom. They're also super soft and super cute. Parents need to be sensitive that it should be the child's desire of which ones get pruned. We don't know as parents what makes this one special. I would caution parents about making their child ever get rid of anything when they're not ready. Let your kids get rid of them when they want. [Of course], you don't want your room to be so full of stuffed animals that you can't find your shoes."
— Michelle Barratt, professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, a former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescence, and the mother of five
"Stuffed animals are icons of an innocent time in a child's life. Kids attach to favorite toys during the latter months of the first year of life when they learn the concept of object permanence, and the stuffed animals and other objects become familiar and comforting as a child goes through the preschool years. In 1959 the psychologist Selma Fraiberg wrote 'The Magic Years,' describing the incredible fantasy life of children, speaking about the imaginative play that rehearsed them for later childhood, and even adult life. Surely, stuffed animals are part of the play-acting that goes on at that time. Kids need to be given a little space to give up these tokens of youth. They don't hurt anyone, and they are familiar in times of stress.I look back and wish I had kept these tokens of my kids' childhood. Now they have their own children. I hope they're a bit smarter than their old dad."
— Daniel Levy, a developmental pediatrician who sits on the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on communications and media
"I advise all parents to introduce and encourage their newborn infants to a transitional object. If the baby has not yet found her thumb, she may be interested in a soft silky blanket, pillow, or cuddly stuffed animal. The purpose of these objects is to help the baby learn to self-soothe when sleepy, anxious, and frustrated. Never give away beloved attachment objects without your child agreeing happily and resolutely to this. This is a high-risk way of saddening or enraging your child. When you see your child begin to disconnect and detach from his stuffed creatures, ask him if he is feeling less interested in them. If [so], talk about what his ideas are for how and when to phase them out. I often recommend that parents put these creatures in a box and save them in the garage for a period of time. After six to 12 months, you can ask your child if he wants to save them for his own children, donate them to poor families with children, or discard them."
— Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills psychotherapist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent"
"Parents must use special care with the blankey or soft toy that the child endows with particular meaning. Giving away, losing, or even washing this special belonging can be a terrible loss for a small child. There is nothing wrong with young people bringing stuffed animals to college or even hanging onto them for a lifetime — although most parents itch to rid their households of worn out old toys, kiddie clothing, and similar paraphernalia. The keynote here is that parents show a respectful attitude toward stuffed animals that their offspring once treasured, although it is certainly true that some children have trouble parting with just about anything and may benefit from gentle encouragement to make room for the new. Compromising through keeping one or two treasured stuffed animals, while permitting other children to enjoy others through donations to charitable organizations, might be a way of both moving forward and hanging on. Parents should recognize that inanimate objects such as stuffed animals, although merely decorative or 'cute' to an adult, are given a magical spirit of life by the child's devotion."
— Elizabeth Berger, child psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"
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