While watching a grandmother and her 1-1/2-year-old granddaughter the other day, the following occurred:
The little girl was hungry and tired and began melting down and crying. She asked for her little stuffed animal, her lovey named Binky. Grandmother said something like:
“Big girls who want to grow up don’t need their Binky.”
So grandmother understandably wanted to put her granddaughter on a trajectory toward growing up. But grandmother did not understand how Binky could help her granddaughter internalize her tension-regulation—that is, she tried to shame her granddaughter into control rather than using the available Binky. She didn’t understand Donald Winnicott’s concept of “transitional object” and how important the lovey’s are in these early years as the child begins to separate and achieve a sense of her/his own self.
So what is a Transitional Object (Lovey, Binky, etc.)?
Here is Donald Winnicott’s description:
“Perhaps some soft object or cot cover has been found and used by the infant, and this then becomes what I am calling a transitional object. This object goes on being important. The parents get to know its value and carry it around when traveling. The mother lets it get dirty and even smelly, knowing that by washing it she introduces a break in continuity in the infant’s experience, a break that may destroy the meaning and value of the object to the infant” (p. 232).
When does this process start?
“I suggest that the pattern of transitional phenomena begins to show at about 4-6-8-12 months. Purposely I leave room for wide variations. Patterns set in infancy may persist into childhood, so that the original soft object continues to be absolutely necessary at bedtime or at a time of loneliness or when a depressed mood threatens. In health, however, there is a gradual extension of range of interest, and eventually the extended range is maintained, even when depressive anxiety is near. A need for a specific object or a behaviour pattern that started at a very early date may reappear at a later age when deprivation threatens” (p. 232).