Transitional Objects

The following was written by Mollie for a class paper in which she received an A. She will be graduating in May of 1999 to become a kindergarten teacher. She loves children and I believe that she will be a great asset to the system.

 Linus from the "Peanuts" comic strip is infamous for carrying around his security blanket while sucking his thumb. "An estimated 60% of young, middle-class children in Western cultures use soft objects, such as blankets, pillows, and stuffed toys, as soothers or comforters when they are going to sleep or are mildly distressed" (Lehmane, 1995). "Because they help a child make the transition from complete dependence to independence, experts sometimes refer to security objects as transitional objects" (Kutner,1997). A transitional object, as defined by Winnicott is an item that serves a soothing function for children, and stresses that these objects are normal and significant developmental phenomenon’s, and that such attachments do not imply maladjustment (Lehmane,1995). "It might be his blankie, a doll, or a stuffed animal, or an old cloth diaper. If it’s been around for a while it’s likely frayed and grayed and smells of home. It’s there whenever he wants or needs it" (Miles,1997). A security object can give a child both emotional and tangible comfort, especially during times of stress. When going to sleep or being read a story, these security objects can have a calming effect on children. They can also be helpful in a separation from the parent. The object reminds them of the parents; therefore, it calms them by giving them a peace of mind. Although children benefit from transitional objects, they have been a concern for many parents for quite some time now. The parents view the object clutched in the child’s hands as nothing more than a dingy blanket or a tattered doll (Kutner,1991).

The Need for Transitional Objects

"Transitional objects are among the most powerful symbols in children’s lives" (Kutner,1991). According to Miles, attachment to a transitional object tends to develop around six months of age. This is when the first evidence of independence develop, but the attachment peaks at about eighteen to thirty months of age. The security objects are generally most important when the child is about two-and-a half years old. This may be because between the ages of two and three children develop the necessary skills that allow them to emotionally relate to people other than the people most important to them (Weiser,1991). Transitional objects are irresistible to children because, for the most part, they are soft, warm, and "totally predictable" (Miles, 1997). Miles states that in addition to providing security, the transitional object allows the child to show his autonomy. The young child enjoys having authority over something. Kutner believes the ways in which children use these transitional objects tell us a great deal about their development. "Learning to use transitional objects can be a very important step for a child along the path toward independence" (Kutner,1991). Parents observing the child caring for his/her most loved stuffed animal or doll, can see that the transitional object provides "friendship" as well (Miles, 1997). If a small child has trouble separating from his/her parents, it is a good idea for the parent to provide the child with an object he/she can take with them to the day care center or baby-sitter’s house (Kutner,1991).

Children’s needs differ when it comes to transitional objects. Some children never even have a security object, some jump from one object to another in short periods of time, and others cling onto one object for years (Miles,1997). "As long as the relationship doesn’t inhibit the child’s development of social or language skills-as a pacifier might, for example-there’s no reason to be concerned," says Miles (1997). Transitional objects help the child deal with their independence. They are considered to be a experimental steps toward growing up (Wise,1997). "It’s a big anxious world out there, and anything that gives a child comfort and solace is good" (1997). Mothers may not always comprehend the importance of the object attachment to the child. An attachment object usually has unique features that make it valuable to the child.

Fostering the Use of Transitional Objects

According to Kutner, if a child is unable to use an object for self-comfort, they may require professional help. Instead of clinging to their security object, these children scream, become very withdrawn, or fall apart emotionally (Kutner,1991). Parents can encourage an attachment to an item that’s easy to tote around. They can do this by putting a particular toy or blanket in the baby’s crib at bedtime and taking it with them when not at home (Wise,1997). Some daycares do not allow children to bring along items from home. In such case, parents should explain the day care’s rules to the child, but allow the child to bring their transitional object with them in the car. For instance, parents can let the child say goodbye to their security blanket while telling them it will be there when they pick them up from day care (Wise,1997). "Learning to use transitional objects can be a very important step for a child along the path toward independence" (Kutner,1991).

Transitional Objects and Weaning

"Weaning an older child away from a cherished blanket or doll requires that parents acknowledge the symbolic importance of the transitional object. If the object is simply taken away, that will rarely work. An alternative is to offer the child new and more satisfying things and may take a while until the right combination is discovered. If the transitional object is a security blanket, the best thing to do is to cut off a small square of the blanket and give that to the child. It is generally the smell and texture, not the size the child gets comfort from. The parent can repeat this process until the child no longer needs the tiny piece of cloth. A child may need a transitional object at night for a few years after giving it up. "It’s easier for children to cope with stress during the day when other people are around than at bedtime when they are by themselves (Kutner,1991). According to Miles, the parents’ only concerns should be keeping the item clean, ignoring how it looks, and how it looks next to their child’s new holiday outfit. Parents can provide two items so one may serve for a replacement when the other is missing or being cleaned. Cleaning the item may put the parents in a dilemma because the children become attached to its familiar smell, texture, and appearance.


I believe that transitional objects are indeed very important to a child’s emotional development. These objects help the child deal with transitions such as the transition from wakefulness to sleep and transition from being with parents to being with a baby-sitter. Security objects are usually very soft and warm. They can be items such as a blanket, cloth diaper, stuffed animal, or even a favorite pillowcase. Children’s transitional objects are usually something that reminds them of their parents. It has a familiar texture and scent that help the children become independent. the children usually carry these security items with them wherever they go. They can become tattered and dingy, but if washed, the children will get them dirty again. It is the texture and smell of the object, not the appearance that’s important. Parents need to understand that transitional objects are a healthy aspect of childhood development. Although there are some children that never have a transitional object, most children have one within the first year of their lives. I never had a transitional object, but my younger brother had a security blanket. He carried that blanket with him wherever he went and slept with it every night. He cherished his blanket.


Note from Kathi

In the world of objects relations psychoanalytic theory, some of us struggle even today with object constancy. Unable to internalize an all good mother, caretaker or other love object, they will still use transitional objects to bridge the gap. It is to be hoped, that once this developmental phase of object constancy has been attained, these transitional objects will be left behind.

In some emotionally disturbed children and adults, transitional objects are encouraged for developmental progress.