I want to begin by saying that this is a story of compassion by a toddler – my son. Recently, I was experiencing some discomfort. I had been complaining to Kat about this discomfort and my son saw me paying attention to my discomfort. I usually read in the evenings to him and have him learn something new through a video on youtube. As I began to show him a video for something he wanted to learn about, he also said,
“Dada, take my blankie.” He then placed it over me and told me. “The blankie will help you to feel much better.”
I said, “Thank you.” Then I gave him a kiss and told him that I love you. I then asked him why he wanted to share his blankie with me and he said, “Because I love you Dada.” I had a tremendous moment of pure bliss and happiness as I looked at him, and then continued with our evening routine.
As a parent, we all want our kids to be emotionally aware, successful, happy and healthy. My wife really spends a significant portion of time every single day watching our kids. She is the bedrock of our family. She also spends a good deal of time preparing me for the challenges of being a parent. We are both experienced in that we have two children, but she really understands the empowerment that children need to feel, the affirmation of their decision early on, that will hopefully, one day, lead to the development of emotionally mature children. I was so awestruck by my experience with my son that I am writing about it now. I am very proud of my son. He has learned empathy and compassion. I want to sear this moment into my brain. As any parent, we have good days and bad days. There are some mornings, where getting him to have his breakfast ends up in his disagreeing and throwing a tantrum – which to me is an indicator that I am being a parent. Equally, he is incredibly helpful when we have to do certain things around our home. But I digress. There is much, for me, to learn every single day. My son’s blankie really helps him every single day. He holds it during sleepy time, nap time, breakfast and when he experiences a challenge. And now I also know that he sees it as something more than just a blankie. To him, the blankie has magical powers of healing and comfort. He loves his blankie. This led me to read about research on this subject to try to find answers to several questions:
- Is there a biological or cultural reason for children placing value on objects?
- How and why do children put value on specific objects over others?
- How and why has this object developed its unique properties to a child?
- How and why do children form these attachments?
- What role do these attachments play in the development of young children?
I found an article by Gelman and Davidson in the journal Cognition (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4983231/) that addresses some of these questions.
In their research study, they discuss that
1.“Roughly 60% of young children in middle-class U.S. families have an attachment to a non-social object, such as a blanket or soft toy (Lehman, Arnold, & Reeves, 1995; Passman & Hallonen, 1979).”
- “Parents report that, by 6 months of age, most infants show a preference for at least one “specific, individual, favorite object” (Furby & Wilke, 1982).”
- “By 2 years of age, children with a “security” blanket prefer to play with, and to be in close proximity to, their own blanket rather than another blanket that obviously differs in appearance (Weisberg & Russell, 1971).”
- In another study on the early value of unique objects is provided by Hood and Bloom (2008), “it was shown that 4.5-year-old children with a strong emotional attachment to a special object (e.g., stuffed toy or blanket) chose that original object over an exact duplicate, after the researcher convinced the child that a duplicating machine could generate such an entity (Hood and Bloom, 2008).”
Though the study did not really go over the mechanisms (which may be out there in the literature so I will check), they find that (1) children prefer their items compared to new ones, (2) believe their object had some special intrinsic value not shared by anything else, (3) and that this applies to children between 3-5 years of age, as well as, children over 4.5 years of age. They also speculate that children anthropomorphize the specific object to which they are attached as they ascribe some emotion, intention and motivation (Gelman and Davidson, 2016). Finally, they also provide evidence for cultural variation with regard to reasons for object attachment (Kanngiesser, Rossano, & Tomasello, 2015; Rochat et al., 2014).
Overall, there were several things that I have learned through this process:
(a) My son has developed some important attributes: compassion and empathy
(b) He loves his blankie
(c) Evidence from research in to the why of attachment to an object provides some evidence as to why this may occur; the age at which it occurs; and that there may be cultural variation. And most cool, that most of this research has been done for years! It’s amazing what is out there to learn.
Thank you for reading. Until next time. Same Bat time. Same Bat channel. Live long and prosper.
- Gelman and Davidson. (2016) Cognition. 155: 146–154.
- Lehman EB, Arnold BE, Reeves SL. (1995) The Journal of Genetic Psychology. 156(4):443–459.
- Passman RH, Halonen JS. (1979) The Journal of Genetic Psychology. 1979; 134(2):165–178.
- Furby L, Wilke M. (1982) The Journal of Genetic Psychology. 140(2):207–219.
- Weisberg P, Russell JE. (1971) Child Development. 1575–1579.
- Hood BM, Bloom P. (2008) Cognition. 106(1):455–462.
- Kanngiesser P, Rossano F, Tomasello M. (2015) Child Development. 86(4):1282–1289.
- Rochat P, Robbins E, Passos-Ferreira C, Oliva AD, Dias MD, Guo L. (2014) Cognition. 132(3):471–484.