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Help for Parents

Transitional Objects and Sleep-Away Camp

Q  Our four-year-old daughter has a blankie she absolutely cherishes, especially at bedtime. We have a policy of leaving the blanket on her bed in the morning. Lately she has been begging to take the blanket to childcare with her and has even snuck it into her bag a few times. I don’t want her dragging it around with her everywhere she goes so i’m determined to not let her take it to school. My husband doesn’t have a problem with the blankie leaving the house. Can you help us get this right?

A  In child development we have a fancy name for your daughter’s beloved blankie. We call it a transitional object. Her blanket serves an important purpose in her young life. It represents safety and emotional comfort, and it is a way for her to self-soothe. Around 60 percent of children attach to such an object. It may be a blanket or a soft stuffed animal. Some children even take comfort in a cloth diaper. I like to encourage transitional objects as they enable children to sleep independently and often can aid in times of separation from a parent such as childcare.

I do like the idea of reserving the blankie for night-time or nap soothing and usually suggest keeping it home. But this is not a hard and fast rule and there are many reasons to make exceptions. You say that she has been asking to take it to school lately. Is this a new behavior? If so, I would look at whether there have been any new stresses in her life. Any change can be experienced by a young child as stressful. Things like moving to a new home, change of routine, a parent’s absence due to work, can cause a child to be more anxious than usual. She may be more in need of that old familiar blankie for a reason that is not clear to you. I personally have no problem with Her making use of it at school if this is in line with the facility’s policy. I would check with them and if they have no problem, then I say let her take it. They may allow it only at nap time which I think is a good compromise.

Once children learn more mature ways of soothing themselves, they leave their old transitional object behind. These often become cherished family heirlooms that get passed on from one generation to the next as has been the case in our own family.

Q  Our son is eight years old and a good kid. He does well in school, has good manners, and is helpful at home. Our concern is that any time he has to do something new he has a very negative attitude. This has been true of playing a new sport, meeting new people, and changing schools. He has always had success once he has some time to settle into a new situation, but he is always apprehensive. Both my husband and i enjoyed summer camp and we feel our son is the right age to go. Our son says he does not want to go, and that he won’t enjoy it and won’t make any new friends. Our question is this: do we force him to go? We really do think it would be good for him.

A  All children are born with a personality or style by which they experience life. We call this temperament. Children tend to fall into one of three temperaments. Some children have an easy temperament. These children seem to roll with the punches, are highly adaptive, and have a generally positive outlook. On the other end of the spectrum we have those spirited kids. These are less adaptive, often high-drama, and can be high Maintenance. There is a third and middle temperament we call slow-to-warm-up. I think this might describe your son. Children who are slow to warm up need a lot of preparation for handling new situations. Once they get the hang of things they tend to thrive.

In answer to your question about camp, if possible, I would have him visit the camp ahead of time to get a feel for the place. It would also help if he were to go with a friend. If he does not know someone who wants to go, perhaps the camp could give you the name of someone in your area who has gone in past years. You could plan a get together with that child. This way your son would have a buddy to help him feel more comfortable.

If none of this seems practical or if he puts up too much of a fight, I would look at some camps close to home that offer a sleep-away option. The University of Richmond has a variety of sports camps that last one week. They are very well done and even allow parents to visit during the week. This might be a way to ease him into the camping experience and pave the way for a camp next summer that might be further away. You can also visit RFM’s Camp Finder under the Community tab at for a variety of summer camp options.

Susan Brown holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology, as well as degrees in early childhood education and psychology. A mother, teacher, children’s book author, and nationally known family educator, she works with clients at Everyday Parenting Solutions.
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