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Objects of Desire

At 18 months, my daughter Harper insists on taking Barkley everywhere. Once a soft, downy stuffed dog, Barkley has grown matted and ripe with the smell of stale milk and cheddar cheese. But to her, Barkley's just heaven. She often grabs tiny fistfuls of his fur and hugs him to her face while squealing. Anytime Harper leaves the house Barkley goes with her: in the stroller, to the doctor, on the slide at the park, and, to my dismay, on the New York City subway, where people spit on the floor for sport.

On the train one morning, Harper tried out her new game  -- drop it and Mommy will pick it up  -- with Barkley. So instead of giving him back to her, I put him in my bag to wash him when we got home. She howled.

I knew my daughter loved her dog. I understood the need. When I was a little kid, I'd carried a nearly headless doll around everywhere, too. But the fury and tantrum that erupted on the subway that morning? I simply was not prepared.

While not all kids fall in love with a specific stuffed animal the way Harper has, most do pick a lovey (or two) of some kind. Pacifiers, blankets, even favorite shirts can all turn into security objects for young children  -- and sometimes a headache for you.

"It's a mixed blessing," says Ginny Read of Midland, Michigan, whose son and daughter slept with thermal knit "blankies" well into elementary school. "It helped to comfort them, but we were forever trying to keep track of them!"

So how do you know if you should buy backup blankets or tell your child it's time to leave her doggie at home? Here, moms and experts weigh in:

My son wants his lovey with him all the time, but it's driving me crazy. What can I do?
Jason Krever's 4-year-old son, Noah, wants to cart Hassie, his stuffed hippopotamus everywhere  -- and Hassie is more than a foot long. The hippo sits next to Noah in the car, buckled in with its own seat belt. It went to Disney World and on several of the rides.

"He's never been apart from him," says Krever of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. "It's kind of like another little person to cart around."

If you fear losing your child's security object every time you leave the house, or find yourself going out of your way to accommodate it, moms who've been there say it's time to place some limits. Billie Ellis of Raleigh, North Carolina, tells her 5-year-old twin boys that it's okay to take their blankets in the car, but not inside the store. "The boys pretty much understand," she says.

Lauren Barack has written for Men's Fitness and the New York Post.

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