Teddies, Dummies and a Pair of Silky Pyjamas: The Importance of Security Items
I was at a recent consult in an Infant/Toddler space and one of the more recent educators questioned the long held rule of no personal toys/items quietly with me. I was impressed by this. We strongly advocate for everyone to know WHY we do the things we do in practice, and we strongly recommend anyone to question a long held practice, especially if they are new or the practice doesn't sit right with them. Practice, policy, procedure should be questioned, debated, reflected on and reviewed. Maybe it will stay the same, maybe it won't. But at least everyone will know the why, and that's important. - Tash
Jai was about three years old.
On his first day in care he was unsettled. He cried a lot. He wanted his mum.
On his second day in care he was unsettled. He cried a lot. He wanted his mum.
On his third day in care, Jai clutched something silky as he walked in the door. It was his mums pyjamas. He was a little unsettled still. He cried a little. He hung onto those pyjamas that connected him to his mum.
Over time Jai settled. He clutched those pyjamas less often, and would happily put them in his bag to go and play. But he knee they were there. If things felt uncertain, they were there.
This isn't just Jai's story - it's the story of so many children in care. It's the story of Tom who went to bed clutching a dummy in each hand. It's the story of Olivia whose comfort doll found itself buried in the sandpit and whose dad spent a solid half hour digging to find it.
Many children have comfort items and in fact, so do some adults. There are adults who take a favourite pillow when they travel, or wear a bracelet that makes them feel connected to a loved one. We do these things because they help us to feel safe, to feel secure, to feel at home. In fact, according to Mark Brenner, transitional objects continue through the course of our lives, as “sacred keepsakes” which pull us back to “a place and time of great solace and memory.”
And yet, more and more we hear of services or educators who put in place a "no toys/items from home" rule.
There are many reasons given for this, such as:
- Children won't play when they have them
- Items from home will get lost
- Items from home will get damaged/broken
And let's face it - those things may be true. There are some children who will clutch onto their teddy so tightly that they can't possibly build with blocks. But the flipside of that is that if they didn't have that teddy they would be crying so much that they couldn't play with blocks anyway. Sometimes items will get lost or damaged (like Olivia's doll who lived a metre deep in the sandpit for a short while), but more often than not - they won't. They'll be securely with their little owner.
What is a security item?
In 1951, child psychologist Dr. D.W. Winnicott first defined the transitional object or security item as “any material to which an infant attributes a special value and by means of which the child is able to make the necessary shift from the earliest oral relationship with mother to genuine object-relationships.”
Essentially it could be anything that supports a child to feel secure - teddy bear, blanket, dummy or a pair of silky pyjamas! It's something that provides an all important link to home.
What happens when we refuse children the opportunity to have a security item?
Implementing a "no items from home" rule is worth some reflection. What impact does this have on a child trying to settle into care?
For adults (especially parents) who worry about their child's reliance on an item, it may be helpful to remind them that their child probably won't be carrying their ratty old teddy off to high school with them. Early childhood is such a small period of time, and don't we want children to feel secure in that time?
What if by taking away this small comfort - whatever it may look like - we are doing damage to the child's wellbeing, and perhaps even our relationship with them, as an educator?
Goddard (2014) says "If taken in context as part of human development, if the object thought to make one stronger and more resilient in the face of difference and trauma, is removed or denied access to, it can actually create more anxiety and discourse."
What's the answer?
Reflection. Observation. Understanding. Empathy. Connection.
We need to stop and see, and feel, what children really need.
We need to focus on our connection and relationships with children so that they begin to feel more secure in our care.
We need to support children to keep their security item with them, while supporting them to venture into play. With Jai, I can remember giving him a peg to attach his silky pyjamas to his shorts. It meant that he had his security item there when he needed it, but was still able to play freely as he felt comfortable.
What have been your experiences with security items? Let us know in the comments!
Goddard, C. (2014) More than just teddy bears. Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-guest-room/201407/more-just-teddy-bears)