Development FAQ: 18-24 months – Behaviour

My 21mth son has started to need his comforter with him at all times.

My 21 month old son has become increasingly attached to his Winnie Pooh comforter. He continuously sucks the hands of the Winnie – even playing with it hanging out of his mouth. It was restricted to bed times only but the last few weeks he demands it through the day. I have tried to resist but he can cry longer than I can be strong. As he wants to suck it through meals it can be very stressful withholding it and still getting him to have enough food.
I can not pinpoint any emotional upset to link this increased need too to have his comforter so much.

Can you help? Even though I have several of these Winnies they get very smelly and I am a little embarrassed when we go out as he has a soggy flat Winnie pooh hanging out of his mouth.

It is also making his speech very difficult to understand and he has been doing really well increasing his vocabulary. This is discouraging and frustrating us both.
Please can you help?

Comforters and transitional objects are needed by many toddlers but you have realized that you will have to tread carefully in trying to reduce the amount of time Winnie accompanies your son. It is necessary for you to have some limits as to when he may have Winnie and you will need to stick with these, despite the inevitable tears. The best way to do this is to take it step by step.

Begin with meal times as this is obviously a situation which has got out of hand. If he is sucking the toy and eating at the same time it will become a breeding ground for bacteria due to bits of food being left on it. Find somewhere in full view of your son where he can leave Winnie who will watch him eat his meal. Make a ritual out of leaving Winnie in his special place before you begin each meal. Even if it means that for a few days your son does not eat so well you do need to ride this out. Use Winnie to encourage him to eat and praise him when he does. Use phrases such as, “One spoon for Mummy, one for Daddy and one for Winnie”.

Find activities which will fully engross your son. Play dough, water and sand play are all tactile and soothing occupations to use with him. Again, state that Winnie must watch him from a safe place but use conversation to include Winnie whilst you roll out dough or play with sand and water. To provide the last two activities use a washing up bowl placed on a waterproof cover on the floor. Dress your son appropriately and join in his play from time to time. Sand suitable for children to use can be bought in good toy shops. To begin with, he may only be happy to play for a short spell before needing his comforter again. Make it clear to him that once he has decided to stop playing with the water, sand or dough because he wants his comforter you will clear away the activity. By encouraging him to be busy in his play you will find your son will be able to go for longer spells without needing Winnie so close to him.

When you are out begin to use the buggy as a “safe” place for Winnie to watch him when he is at the swings or with friends. It easy to be embarrassed about this habit when you are out but don’t let your son see this. One thing you must not do is to laugh at or ridicule his attachment to his comforter. By acknowledging his need for Winnie, but giving him limits when he can have him to suck, will help your son feel more secure and more willing to gradually not need the comforter so much.

Wash the comforters as often as possible because some toddlers do become attached to the smell of them more than anything. By some of the smell being eliminated he may well not be so interested in having Winnie in his mouth all the time.

Now that your son is beginning to talk use fun ways to get him to communicate with you. Sing lots of action songs and nursery rhymes. If there are some he knows well begin to leave out the last word of each line to encourage him to join in. At these times insist that Winnie watches and listens to your son. Use musical instruments to encourage him to be busy with his hands as well as his voice.

If your toddler is feeling a little unsure of himself he will need plenty of hugs and cuddle times to give him a sense of security. Tell him often how much you love him. Spend short times throughout the day looking at books or singing action rhymes which should help him be less likely to want his comforter all the time.

Once you have begun to eliminate the comforter from certain times of the day you can begin to work on keeping its use restricted to bedtime and nap times. It may take a while before your son is willing to leave Winnie upstairs in his cot but find a place for Winnie to stay during the day and gradually work towards Winnie’s place becoming nearer to the stairs, then upstairs. Finally, Winnie should be tucked into your son’s cot when he gets up in the morning or from naps. If you make a little ritual out of this it will be easier for him to leave Winnie behind.

Although you are not aware of any emotional upset to have triggered this obsession make sure you are not putting too much pressure on your son to be more independent or to achieve too much in any area of his life. He may be using the comforter as a way of expressing his need to have the pressure taken off him. Having sensible restrictions on your son’s use of Winnie, and keeping him busy with plenty of different activities in the day, will help him need his comforter less and be happier about using it only for sleep time and naps.

If you remain concerned about the amount of time your son seems to need his comforter discuss the problem with your health visitor or doctor.