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Ask Dr. Sears: Security Blanket

Q. My 3-year-old daughter uses her blanket as a security object. We only allow it at bedtime or on long trips in the car. Should I get rid of it cold turkey or not?

Growing up in the big world is scary for children, and security blankets, known in child development jargon as "transitional objects," help them transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar with more ease.

Children often drag along their tattered blanket when in strange places or around strange people. And snuggling with a treasured "lovey" may help a toddler transition into sleep, since nighttime is a scary time for little people. Some children's hospitals even distribute security blankets to their sick little patients - a custom dubbed Project Linus. These blankets provide a great source of comfort to hospitalized kids.

Let your child enjoy her "blanky" as long as she wishes. Don't worry that her attachment to her blanket may reveal some underlying insecurities or may slow her independence. This is simply not true. An attachment to her blanket is not only normal, it's healthy. The ability to form deep attachments is one of the most important emotional qualities you want to help your child develop. As children are learning to attach to people, they also like to attach to things, and this attachment to people and things will help your child ease into independence.

I don't recommend the trick of "trading in" the blanket at a toy store in exchange for a toy. While this technique works for pacifiers when they are causing dental malalignments, security blankets cause no emotional or physical harm. Besides you don't want to teach your child that attachments are easily disposable.

The most secure children I've ever seen are those who are not weaned from any object or person of attachment before their time. Allow her the luxury of her soft friend. Don't worry; she is unlikely to drag it down the aisle on her wedding day.