The benefits of cuddling stuffed animals (for children and adults alike)
When buying a toy for your child, do you buy it with a certain intention in mind? Or because it's a cute toy that'll make your baby happy?
Have you ever wondered why your little one is so calm when they play with their favourite stuffed toys?
We reached out to experts who answered these questions for us.
Not just a toy
Joburg-based psychologist, Tsholofelo Jood, says that stuffed toys are not just a cute toy: they are way more than that.
“Stuffed toys are psychologically important and were termed transitional objects by Dr. Donald Winnicott in 1953," Tsholofelo told Parent24. "The term transitional object captures how these toys give the child the opportunity to not solely depend on the adult caregiver for comfort and soothing."
She explained how the toy allows the child to explore receiving support outside the bounds of their relationship with the primary caregiver. A child’s sense of security and safety is imbued in this object, and so it becomes more than a mere toy.
Provides comfort in unfamiliar environments
Tsholofelo says young children learn to depend on the stuffed toy when they find themselves in distress, or during times of discomfort.
“A chosen stuffed toy fosters a sense of familiarity in unfamiliar environments. This settles a young child and makes the distress of an unfamiliar environment more bearable.”
Fairuz Gaibie, a clinical psychologist from Cape Town, agrees that children often associate stuffed toys with positive occurrences.
“For children, a teddy bear tends to have additional positive associations, usually of the safety of home or caregivers. Therefore, children often feel better going to preschool or sleeping over somewhere unfamiliar if their teddies come along.”
Fairuz also says when we cuddle anything soft and comforting, like a teddy bear, it releases oxytocin.
This is a hormone that leaves us feeling calm and soothed.
We're hardwired to be more drawn toward soft and cuddly things, and this applies to both kids and adults.
Also read: Pregnancy hormones and what they do
For adults, many still have stuffed toys from their childhood days, but may feel embarrassed about this when there is absolutely no need to be.
Anything can hold symbolic and sentimental meaning to us - whether it is a rock or a necklace.
It is often not so much the actual object that is special to us, but what it represents and symbolises, and the memories it conjures.
Tsholofelo reiterates this point, saying “these stuffed toys hold a lot of sentimental value for young children, because of the emotional support they provide.”
Cuddling soft toys encourages children to be nurturing, which would also be the case if they cuddled with baby dolls.
The instinct to be gentle and caring is innate in children who are cared for gently, and when they cuddle their teddies, it is often an enacting of this instinct.
Many kids will make beds for their soft toys, "feed" them and host pretend tea parties for them.
Lastly, when a child is disregulated (tired, afraid or overstimulated), the softness of a teddy can serve as an effective soothing aid.
“Stuffed toys are soft and cuddly for a reason; they are useful for kids to negotiate difficult developmental challenges. Parents are encouraged to collaborate with their children when choosing these meaningful toys,” advises Tsholofelo.
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