Lots of children have a favourite cuddly toy that they use to help them go to sleep. Donald Winnicot, who I have mentioned before in this blog, coined the term ‘transitional object’ for such items, which are usually soft toys or ‘security blankets’ and parents will know how important these are for their children. As young infants, babies do not know that they are separate from their mother: they believe that they are one unit. The baby’s every need is met.
As she grows older, the baby realises that her mother is actually a separate person, and that she depends on others to get what she wants. Baby realises that her mother cannot be there all the time, and this can be a difficult time. Separation anxiety is common (and normal) with the baby looking and crying for mum when she is not there. The transitional object provides the baby with something that bridges the gap, something that reminds her of her mum and of maternal care. It is an important part of the baby’s growing independance from mum.
The transitional object is a way for a child to settle herself, relieve anxiety and provide comfort. It is the first ‘not me’ object, an object which the baby knows is not herself – this helps her to develop a sense of self and separateness.