Your child’s most treasured stuffed animal is more than just a toy – it consoles them, brings them comfort, and reassures them during times of transition or uncertainty. When you get down to it, there’s a reason pediatricians refer to them as “comfort objects.” While some parents fret that their little one is too attached to a special furry friend, experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics reassure that coveting a transitional object is a perfectly normal part of healthy development. In fact, most children don’t start separating themselves from their lovey object until age 5 or 6. When it comes to your little one’s favorite stuffed animal, chances are it’s gotten beat up along the way. If breathing new life into it is no longer an option, here are some tips for retiring your child’s lovey with minimal drama.
Knowing When to Say Goodbye
So how can you tell if Teddy is ready for retirement? Look out for these telltale signs.
- Loose buttons or accessories: Fortunately, most of today’s stuffed animals already come equipped with sturdy buttons that have a secure locking mechanism built in – but not all toys are created equal. If buttons or other accessories become loose, they pose a serious choking hazard for little ones. If repairing it won’t do the trick, it’s probably time to say goodbye.
- Rips, tears and stains: Before tossing Teddy, many minor rips and tears can be easily fixed with some needle and thread. (And sometimes extra stuffing.) But if the job is either too cumbersome, or the damage is beyond repair, it’s probably best to invest in a new toy. In other words, if your child’s comfort object leaves a trail of stuffing in its wake, that may be an indicator that it’s seen better days. The same goes for stubborn stains that simply won’t come out.
- Consistently dirty: If your child’s lovey follows him everywhere he goes (from his bed, to preschool, to the bathroom), the toy can actually become a magnet for germs. This inevitably leads to constant washing, which will likely wear out Teddy. If you don’t have a backup toy to use in between wash cycles, it’s best to keep dirty, allergen-packed stuffed animals out of your kid’s hands.
How to Introduce a New Stuffed Animal Explaining to your little one that it’s time to say goodbye to their comfort object can be tricky. (Any parent who’s had to turn the car around to pick up a forgotten Teddy will tell you – losing your child’s favorite stuffed animal triggers automatic tears.) But despite this, experts actually say that kids bounce back faster than you think. Perhaps the most valuable thing to remember is that kids aren’t stupid. In fact, one study found that most children will not swap their comfort object for an identical one. For this reason, try being upfront with your little one while introducing something entirely new. Also, make the conversational tone light and playful. And to make the transition as smooth as possible, keep these tips in mind.
- Don’t make the change during a time of transition: Potty training? Starting preschool? Welcoming a new sibling? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may not be the ideal time to introduce a new comfort object. During periods of change, toddlers especially cling to these special toys for reassurance and support. If possible, time the introduction of a new toy during a non-transitional period.
- Do it gradually: Instead of abruptly swiping your child’s favorite stuffed animal, take your time with it. Slowly over time, introduce a new cuddly friend who “needs a home.” Let your little one get to know it while steadily decreasing time with their old favorite.
- Include your child in the change: Instead of making your child feel like something’s being taken away from them, have them play a more active role in the transition. After introducing a new toy, give it a story. Is this soft new Teddy from a faraway land? Why does he need a new home? What’s his name? On the flip side, creating an engaging story about the old stuffed animal can cushion the blow of saying goodbye. Maybe there’s another child who lost their favorite toy – wouldn’t it be nice to share Teddy with them? In other words, make your child an important part of the process.