Many toddlers and infants show a special love for an object in particular (whether it be a toy, a doll, a piece of cloth, a blanket, etc.); it is always with them, they squeeze it against their chest when they are tired or feel lonely. This is what we call an attachment or transitional object.
This term was coined by the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott as a way to define the first non-self possession of a baby.
What characteristics does a transitional object have?
Generally, these objects have a nice texture and remind us of the theory of a soft mother, that speaks about the natural need of children to attach themselves to a soft object to feel protected. This is why their attachment object tends to be squishy and soft, like a toy, a blanket, a pillow, or a shirt.
These are the features of a transitional object:
The child chooses it randomly, which means the attachment object cannot be imposed. Maybe we believe that the chosen toy is not the prettiest nor the most triking one owned by our child, but for some reason they chose it and it will end up being their favorite.
Due to its handling (as the baby bites, drools on, drags across the floor, squeezes, and sleeps with it) that object has a special smell, which is why it is not advised to wash it so as not to remove its print. Should it be done, it is recommended for the child not to see it, for it could be shocking to see his attachment object inside the washer.
It cannot be replaced. If the child loses their attachment object they will feel a deep sadness, and as much as we make an effort to look for a replacement, we will not find one. The attachment object cannot be replaced by another, unless the child decides to replace it. It is a faithful companion and the child will not let it go. They will want to take it to daycare, on walks, to bed, in the car... It will always be in their sight and reachable as well.
What are the functions of the attachment object?
Psychology defines them as an object chosen freely by children and to which they feel profund attachment. It becomes so important in their lives that they take part of most of their day, providing comfort, safety, and becoming essential at bedtime.
It represents the attachment the child feels towards their parents. It helps them control anxiety caused by separation in certain moments, or during the stage in which they realize they are independent from their mother.
Ultimately, the attachment object is a source of pleasure and safety for the child who tends to squeeze it, have it at hand, and sometimes even talk to it.