'Like training wheels for your emotions': Why your baby could benefit from having a blanky

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'Science reveals that sustainable sleep associations or security items are beneficial for children'
'Science reveals that sustainable sleep associations or security items are beneficial for children'

Often new moms are told to introduce an item that can serve as a positive sleep association or security item for their babies.  Even as sleep consultants, we advise this – have you ever considered why?   

What is a sleep association?

Sleep associations are anything (even an action) that we use to help us get to sleep, such as a pillow, a blanket or even your partner.  They are those things we choose to help us sleep better.  

We are not always even aware we have sleep associations.  Babies can use similar tools to help them sleep and link their sleep cycles.     

The reality is that some sleep associations for adults can be sustainable, such as a pillow (not suitable for babies). However, some can be non-sustainable such as a snoring partner (also not good for babies).  

This just means that some things we use to sleep can help us sleep while other things can have the opposite effect.

This is the same principle for babies and children: some sleep associations can be sustainable, such as a taglet blanket or soft toy for example, while others can be non-sustainable, such as rocking which is not a viable sustainable solution long term as babies become heavier and heavier as they grow, making it difficult to sustain that sleep association with your toddler. 

Sustainable sleep associations are items that babies can use independently without having someone else provide them. Non-sustainable sleep associations require the assistance of a caregiver or parent. 

Also see: Baby keeping you up at night? Tips to help your baby sleep better

What about a dummy or pacifier? 

The reality is that a dummy falls somewhere in between, a somewhat grey area.  It can be both sustainable and unsustainable.

For example, if you have to go in more than once a night just to put the dummy back (the so-called "dummy drill") then perhaps other methods of sustainable sleep association are more appropriate. 

Benefits of a sustainable sleep association?

Science reveals that sustainable sleep associations or security items are beneficial for children, helping to give them security and healthily self-regulate their emotions. 

Once again, I will compare this to adults: we all have things we do or use to cope with emotions, we exercise to manage stress, hang out with friends to unwind or call a friend to vent. 

Some coping mechanisms, of course, can be better than others, but just like us, and even more understandably so, children need coping mechanisms as all their emotions are very new. They are still learning to process and self–regulate.  

Security blankets, loveys and taglets serve as a built-in sense of security, making children feel safe enough to take small risks, explore and grow.  

They are like training wheels for your emotions - they provide a safety net that increases confidence and then are shed when no longer needed.  By taking small risks, children will feel free and unafraid to transition, taking larger risks as they grow and change.

Also read: 'It is discipline, not punishment': A mother's tips on how to avoid a bedtime blow-up

Things to keep in mind when choosing sustainable sleep association

1. Choose something that is safe.

This is by far the most important factor to keep in mind when choosing a sustainable sleep association.  Even though you can already introduce a lovey at 3 months of age, it should not be left with your baby until 6 months of age. Even then, you should choose something that is not large or bulky, or has loose pieces of fabric and it should be 100% safe to leave in your baby's cot during sleep time.

2. Choose something you can buy plenty of.

I can even recall my own daughter standing in front of the washing machine crying, waiting for her taglet to finish washing, and meltdowns in airports when we lost a beloved stuffed animal.  You will need to wash it eventually and you will lose some, so make sure you have backups! 3.Choose something that is not too big. Nothing is more embarrassing than walking around with your toddler and their giant pink blanket. The most important part of choosing something small is the fact that it is a lot safer.  Big blankets pose a suffocation risk.

4. Choose something that is easy to wash.

Stuffed animals, though they can be cute and more socially acceptable, can be tricky to wash.  Rather choose a taglet or a small blanket that is easy to wash.

5. Think long-term.

Most children only let go of their security items between the ages of 4 and 9. Make sure that you create boundaries with their sleep associations and ensure that it stays at home and in their cot or bed.  Even though it is also normal for children to switch security items, it can be helpful from the start to choose something that you would like for a while.  

Luckily, these days there are not only a lot of safe options to choose from, but you get such a great variety of beautiful and cute options.  

Do not worry too much if your baby does not form an association – some babies simply aren’t interested. Your baby should associate with their comfort item by 8/9 months of age, if they have not, then it is likely they will not.  


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