We all had our stuffie or blankie growing up. It provided comfort and eased us to sleep each night. The majority if people grow out of needing a stuffed animal. The question is, is it normal for your teens to still sleep with a stuffed animal?
The answer is yes, in most instances. In fact, recent surveys have actually shown that over 30% of adults still sleep with their childhood stuffed animals as of 2020.
Why Is This Happening?
Psychologists call this object relation. It is the theory that humans strive to build relationships and are motivated by contact with others. When our children are little, they grow attached to us, but when they start to transition to different stages in their life, many kids grow attached to inanimate objects to fill the void of being separated from mommy and daddy.
When you consider the fact that we are still distancing ourselves, the fact that our older children and young adults continue to cling to these emotional support items makes perfect sense. Kids cannot see many of the individuals that they love on a regular basis anymore. These sentimental items help them to cope during this time.
Providing a Sense of Security
Whether the event is as little as moving to their “big kid” room or as big as heading off to preschool, more than half of children in the United States form an early attachment to a transitional object. As a teenager, your child will go through physical and emotional changes. These could be due to social anxiety, puberty, academic struggles, or even a transition into or out of a romantic relationship.
When these stressors arise, many teenagers turn to their cherished childhood friend, their stuffed animal. Adolescence is a time of awkward changes and difficult moments so this impartial party can provide relief. While this may seem like an issue, psychologists believe that this is actually a sign that they have a strong bond with you. They just may not feel comfortable talking to you at that time and this is another outlet to calm those negative feelings.
The good news is that most kids will let their stuffed animals go when they are ready. However, there are instances when the bond may be too strong. So how do you know when to let them keep their cuddly buddy and when to intervene?
Knowing When to Let Go
While keeping a stuffed animal for sentimental reasons is perfectly normal, there are instances where this attachment can be detrimental. For example, when it begins to hinder other relationships in their life or they cannot function without the presence of the stuffed animal. This is a sign that they are unable to self-soothe.
In these scenarios, the immediate reaction is to remove the object causing the issue. This is not the appropriate response. Remember that even as adults, we have transitional items just like our kids. Your lucky sweater, a gift you received during a big change in your life and even your beloved family pets are all examples of sentimental things that we can’t imagine living without.
Removing said items will likely cause even more stress, which you want to avoid. As they are aptly named, these transitional objects need to be slowly transitioned to another role in your child’s life. This is a slow process. Don’t rush it.
Transitioning Objects Out
Some of the main reasons these attachments become so strong is because the child does not feel comfortable being alone, they haven’t formed solid personal relationships and they don’t know how to calm themselves when things go wrong. The stuffed animal is their solution. What you need to remedy is the problem.
First, find the trigger. Pay attention to your child. When do they tend to need their stuffed animal most? Is it when they struggle in a certain subject in school? How about after a fight with a friend? Maybe it is just when they become stressed and don’t know how to release that frustration. Determining this information is crucial in helping your teen learn how to handle these situations through alternative methods, in turn, slowly lessening their bond with the stuffed animal.
Helping Them Self-Regulate
Every child is different. Based on their personality, there are a variety of methods to aid in this transition. Finding the right approach is extremely important.
#1 – Let Them Know You Are Available To Talk
You never want to force conversation, but creating an environment where a child feels comfortable talking about their feelings can be a great first step. Having regular discussions at dinner and incorporating your emotions, frustrations and triumphs can help them to open up and share in the exchange.
#2 – Find Alternative Ways to Channel Frustration and Stress
In the instance that your teen gets triggered and needs their transitional item to cope, suggest activities that can help distract and relieve some of that tension. Get outside, go for a walk, shoot some hoops or take a yoga class. Exercise is a fantastic way to destress!
If they are artistic, stow away some art supplies that you can spring out when these scenarios arise. If they love to sing, take them to a karaoke joint for some vocal therapy! Take their interests and use them to your advantage. This not only teaches them better ways to deal with issues in life, but it also keeps them engaged and may even improve social struggles, depending on the activity they choose.
#3 – Remain Impartial
Passing judgment over your teen’s attachment to their stuffed animal, blanket, or alternative transitional object will not fix the problem. The goal is to get them to adapt and change their need for the item. It is a process. Continue to let them use it as they see fit, while simultaneously showing them different ways to handle their problems.
#4 – Consider Providing a More Age Appropriate Alternative
Many times a stuffed animal is just something to remove anxiety. Transitioning from a stuffed animal to a living animal is a proven source of comfort. According to the Centers For Disease Control, pet owners are more active, have more opportunities to socialize, and tend to be happier than those without a furry friend. They also provide a sense of purpose and teach responsibility to their owners.
Upgrading to the real life alternative of their stuffed animal is a big decision, so don’t take it lightly. Remember that this needs to be a permanent decision, for the sake of your child as well as the animal.
Final Thoughts – Teenagers Sleeping With Stuffed Animals
This item has immense value. It means something to your teen. Therefore, the goal should never be to remove it completely. If it is causing no real issues in their daily life, then it is no cause for concern. Everyone has attachments to certain items — children and adults alike. Let them let go in their own time.
However, if there is a real need to remove it, work towards finding alternative coping mechanisms. If these methods don’t solve the problem and there is a true cause for concern, consider speaking with a therapist about possible reasons for your teen’s need to sleep with a stuffed animal.