Don’t be ashamed of your comfort object
Aug 31, 2023
Imagine you are ten years old. Your best friend has just invited you to spend the weekend with them. Considering this is the first significant sleepover you have ever had – never before venturing from your parents’ household for more than 24 hours – you are brimming with anticipation. As your parents help you pack all of the childhood sleepover necessities, including a toothbrush, hair ties, and extra socks, you are in a hurry to get out the door.
However, your excitement to spend time with your pal has led you to make a critical mistake. As your parents wave goodbye and you attempt to settle in what now feels like a stranger’s quarters, you realize you have forgotten the most essential item for any slumber party: a beloved comfort object.
Whether it be a stuffed animal, blanket, or baby doll, we all had comfort objects during childhood. According to Dr. Reena B. Patel, an educational psychologist and behavior analyst, having a tangible thing that provides stability or continuity during childhood is relatively universal. We depend on our parents throughout our infant to toddler stages of life. They feed us, clothe us, bathe us, etc. But as we all know, parents cannot be around their children every waking moment – despite having the qualities of superheroes, parents also need to eat, sleep, and work.
Therefore, these comfort objects, which Patel refers to as “transitional objects,” give children something to depend on when their parents are absent. So when you forget your favorite stuffed animal after settling in at your friend’s house as a ten-year-old, emotional problems are likely to ensue.
At least, this was the case for me. While I never had a singular transitional object as a child, a stuffed animal always accompanied me to every sleepover I went to. My favorite was a tan teddy bear with tightly curled fur and elongated legs. Despite lacking a name, this teddy was unique because it had a pink mesh ribbon tied in a bow around its neck. The tails were kept long on the ribbon, and it was incredibly soothing when I would fold the ribbon onto itself and rub it between my fingers.
Leaving this teddy behind at any time was a nightmare. Without my transitional object that allowed me to control my childhood anxieties, I had suddenly lost the one thing in my life that could and should always stay with me. Without the bear with the comforting mesh ribbon, I would call my parents crying in the middle of the night – begging them to rescue me from what felt like a foreign and unsafe space (sorry, Mom and Dad).
Because of my history with transitional objects and the pure embarrassment of needing to be rescued from peoples’ homes at 3 a.m. on numerous occasions, I was ashamed of my stuffed animals for the longest time. It felt like I was on a covert operation whenever I would pack an overnight bag, cramming my “stuffie” in the bottom of my duffel so no one could see the physical representation of my shame.
As a grown adult, I now realize I was not alone in my struggle. Not only did everyone have a comfort item as a child, but they also worked to hide it from the view of friends and family. From “kiddie blankets” to “my baby,” weighted blankets, and more, I have seen every transitional object known to man. Not only have I been introduced to these beloved items by my now adult friends, but they also continue to carry them with pride – as if their ragged, old, and well-loved object is a badge of honor.
Yet, I do not judge them for continuing to carry their item. I instead encourage them to tell me all about their transitional item. I love hearing about the object’s origins, the times it was dropped in unforgiving environments, and how it earned each of its battle scars. Too quick we are to write off someone’s comfort object as “childish” rather than realizing it houses sentimental value, operating as a reminder of fond memories.
I unfortunately ditched all of my childhood comfort items long ago, likely due to the societal pressure to “become an adult” or whatever. However, I recently invested in a weighted dinosaur plushie that I have affectionately named “Dab.” He weighs three pounds and is crafted from the softest green material, and I no longer lounge without him. He is excellent at calming me down when I am anxious and makes a great neck pillow when I want to write in bed.
I am not ashamed of my comfort object; you shouldn’t be either. So whether it’s the remnants of a childhood blanket, a busted Cabbage Patch Kid, or even a silk ribbon, continue to enjoy the reassurance and sense of ease they provide you.
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Andie Balenger is a native of Gladstone and is currently attending Northern Michigan University. Her column addresses topics from the perspective of a young adult and runs Thursdays in the Daily Press.
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