Blankets, bears and bye-bye – what are transitional objects and why should you value them as much as your child does?

Does your child have a toy or object that has to go everywhere with them? We’ve met children with attachments to blankets, soft toys and even kitchen utensils and vegetables. Not all children have these objects, and researchers suggest that the reason for this is a combination of nature and nurture. For example, they found attachment objects were more common among children who slept in their own room from being babies.[1] Whether or not your child has a favourite that travels with them at the moment, you might find it useful to learn more about what 'transitional objects’ are and how they can be useful for coping with change as your child grows 

The term ‘transitional object’ was introduced by paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott in 1951, to describe the blankets, bits of fabric and toys that children became deeply attached to early in childhood. Winnicott suggested these objects supported children as they developed their sense of themselves as a separate individual, rather than as linked to their mother as one unit.[2] 

Sometimes these objects might be referred to as ‘security objects’ or ‘attachment objects’; the idea that these things provide emotional support and comfort remains the same, whatever name is given to  them.  

The smell and texture of the object is important to its owner, as you might have discovered if you have washed your child’s favourite blanket or toy!  

A transitional object can give your child comfort in situations when they feel a little anxious, so taking their favourite toy and letting them keep it with them as they play might support them in a new place or when meeting new people. 

While Winnicott suggested transitional objects were significant in early childhood, and particularly focused on things like soft toys and blankets, more recently a wider range of objects have been recognised as providing support during periods of separation or anxiety.[3]  

These transitional objects continue to provide support throughout our lives.  

We might not take our teddy or blanket to a new job, but might wear clothing or jewellery that has a particular meaning for us, or look at a favourite photograph to give ourselves a sense of connection to our friends or family.[3]  

If you start to feel pressure from other adults to take away a transitional object your child relies on, keep in mind that you know the real value behind letting your child keep their special thing close by. And remember that the person seeming to judge you probably has important transitional items of their own which they would never want you to suggest leaving behind on a difficult day!  


[1] Lee, A. & Hood, B. (2021). The origins and development of attachment object behaviour. Current Opinion in Psychology, 39, 72-75.  

[2] Caldwell, L. (2022). A discussion of three versions of Donald Winnicott’s ‘transitional objects and transitional phenomena’, 1951-1971. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 38(1), 42-60.  

[3] Garber, B.D. (2019). For the love of fluffy: Respecting, protecting and empowering transitional objects in the context of high-conflict divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 60(7), 552-565.