Bunnies, Blankies and Dudus: Discovering the treasures of your child’s most treasured object
Have you ever scrolled through Facebook and stumbled upon a photograph of a tattered bunny, blankie or dudu, along with some parent’s desperate plea for a new one exactly like it?
When I see these posts, I feel sad and helpless. I also wonder about the parents and child, who likely feel the same way too. Really, these things should come with a warning: ‘Do not lose me, do not discard me and do not wash me, or prepare to face a major meltdown'.
I admit that the idea of a warning is a bit ridiculous, but it does show how valued these objects are to the little people who own them. For many babies developing into toddlers, these objects are their prized possessions.
But what is it that makes them so valued? Why are they so treasured?
In order to understand the power of these precious objects, let’s start by peeking inside your baby’s mind…
Donald Winnicott, a paediatrician and psychoanalyst, shared that in your baby’s mind there is no distinction between you and your baby. From your baby’s perspective, your baby is you and you are your baby. So, even though you feed your baby, your baby thinks that he or she makes the milk! This leaves your baby feeling rather powerful, and it protects your baby from the frightening idea of being separate from you.
However, reality eventually knocks at the door and must be let in!
Slowly but surely your baby will begin to realise that all is not as it seems. One day, your baby may have to wait a little longer than usual for a feed. Another day, you may have to delay changing your baby’s soiled nappy. As these sorts of experiences happen, your baby will start to notice that something is up with the world!
These experiences will enable your baby to see that he or she is separate from you and needs to get things from you, because your baby cannot make its own milk after all! Although these experiences are not planned, they will nonetheless happen in the ordinary day-to-day care of your baby. They are the ways in which you must fail your baby, precisely because they introduce your baby to the idea of being separate from you, as well as to the idea of a world outside of him- or herself. Of course, this can be quite an upsetting realisation for your very dependent infant. This is where bunnies, blankies and dudus come in…
For your baby, a bunny, blankie or dudu is an actual object in reality which becomes imbued with parts of him- or herself. At the same time, it represents you, or stands for you, when you are not there. In so doing, it creates an intermediate space or a bridge between you and your child, which allows your child to begin to play with the idea of what is ‘me’ and what is ‘not me’, what is ‘inside’ and what is ‘outside’, and what is ‘fantasy’ and what is ‘reality’. This is very important for your child’s developing sense of self and for your child’s eventual capacity to play and be creative. After all, play takes place outside of your child, in the space between your child’s internal and external world.
So, we can see that there is far more to your child’s precious object than the threads that are woven into it. It is treasured and it is filled with treasures. It is a part of your child and a part of you. It is a bridge between you and your child. It is a source of comfort. It invites play and it helps your child develop a sense of self.
As a parent, it may then be helpful to keep the following information about these treasured objects in mind:
- You must allow your baby to choose and take ownership of his or her precious object.
- Know that the object may not always be an actual object - it could even be you.
- Try to allow your child to both love and hate the object. Your child needs to have the experience of the object surviving your child’s aggression.
- Remember that you must never change the object, unless your child chooses to do so.
- Consider keeping spares of your child’s precious object in case it gets lost. Try to remember to rotate them so that they age at the same rate.
- Allow your child to choose when to give their precious object up.
Finally, know that there will come the day when the precious object will recede into the background. Neither because it is forgotten nor because it loses importance. Rather, your child will have internalised the bridge linking his internal and external world. This is the everlasting treasure.
Written By: Sarah Berman
Sarah is a counselling psychologist in private practice. She has a special interest in adult therapy and in parent-infant therapy. Sarah has over ten years of experience as a psychologist and she is currently researching the experiences of new fathers for her PhD. To contact Sarah, you can email her on firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find her on Instagram @sarahbermanpsych.