'My best friend the butternut': Can children's comfort objects go too far?

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Can children's comfort objects go too far?
Can children's comfort objects go too far?

Scrolling through a Facebook mom group late one evening, I came across a post which made me look twice.

Twice, because I could have written it myself. 

A concerned mother had reached out to her social network to see if anyone else had shared this experience, and I honestly thought she was sharing my own life online. 

"My three year old, who has never taken to any sort of comfort object despite having 73849 blankets, stuffiest, etc., has, as of today, developed a deep emotional attachment to...a squash," she wrote. 

She added that her daughter was horrified by the idea that she had intended to cook it for dinner.

"It had to accompany us to the park, hang out with us in our fort, sit at the table for lunch, " she explained. 

"Guys, what the …. do I do about this? Should I spirit it away tonight, or just hope the weird fixation resolves itself before the squash starts to ooze and decay? And WHY are children like this?!?!?" she asked.

It's normal, right? 

I’ve experienced this sort of thing myself, with my young children, and it got me thinking, it’s pretty normal, right? I mean, I know my kid isn't the only one to do this sort of thing with random objects. 

I remember my son exclaiming that a butternut was his best friend, at that same age, and my daughter is still quick to develop attachments to various inanimate objects, from dead moths to pebbles to spoons.

Then there's the cousin who won't let go of the cat, and the other cousin who won't go to sleep without a whole chicken egg in her hand. 

I had assumed that because my kid wasn't alone in this, that it was pretty normal. But now I wondered if it was possible to go too far, and I decided to ask: why do kids get attached to inanimate objects?

So I mailed Joburg based Clinical Psychologist Tsholofelo Jood, hoping she could shed some light on this type of attachment.

Yes, it IS normal 

She said parents' may experience some anxiety about the appropriateness of this behaviour, but that it is normal and beneficial for kids to imbue human-like characteristics on non-human entities like animals and objects, and even create imaginary friends.

"This is a very important developmental milestone for children, as they are learning how to see things from another being’s perspective," she explained, "which is an important skill to have as a social human being."

"This also enhances their cognitive abilities, as they are also developing their imagination," she adds.

Jood points out that it is important to note the significance of your child's behaviour, as a vantage point.

Also read: Why is my child so attached to this blankie, and should I be worried?

Replacing inappropriate comfort objects  

In the case of the rotting squash, she says that if your child has not taken to other comfort objects, this may be an opportunity to explore what type of comfort object she can use, which do not decompose rapidly.

"Perhaps you could think about a replacement for the squash, like a stuffed toy which has vegetable characteristics and that can be introduced as a form of continuity of the relationship she had with the squash," she advises.

She suggests, as an example, that the introduction could be framed like this: "The squash found your friendship so special, that he asked his cousin (the new object) to be friends with you as well, because the squash could not stay long".

It may be useful to consider having a picnic where you share vegetables with your daughter and her new comfort object, she says, and use this opportunity to help her understand the usefulness of vegetables in "making kids grow big and strong, when they do enjoy them" and ultimately the squash is meant to make everyone healthy and strong. 


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