Stay-At-Home Dad: Relationship between boys, teddy bears begins to fade
BY HOWARD A. LUDWIG August 22, 2013 10:42AM
Froggy (left) and Buey have accompanied the Ludwig boys through much of their early childhood. | Howard A. Ludwig~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 26, 2013 6:15AM
Bubba and Peter arrived at a recent play date in their pajamas.
The agenda for the after-dinner party called for simply snacks and a movie. Afterward, my 7- and 5-year-old sons would roll up their sleeping bags, return home and get tucked into their beds.
Our hostess greeted us at the door with a smile.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’re here, and I’m glad you brought your (stuffed) animals,” she said.
The anxious mom then turned to The Wife and I and admitted to being worried for her son. He insisted on showcasing his plush pals, and she felt this might open the door to ridicule and embarrassment. Instead, Bubba and Peter arrived like-minded.
Children begin to step away from their beloved stuffed animals and blankets about age 7 or 8, said professor Barbara Bowman, of Chicago’s Erikson Institute. A president at the graduate school of childhood development, she said some children are reluctant to do so, but with encouragement most kids eventually put a healthy distance between themselves and their once-beloved toys.
“Most kids are pretty smart. So if someone teases them about (bringing out a stuffed animal), they won’t do it again,” Bowman said.
Even if they don’t get teased, most children pick up on the clues. For example, teachers eventually advise against bringing stuffed animals to school. And after a while, parents commonly require these items to stay inside the house or in the bedroom, said Dr. Michael Thompson, a psychologist and author of “It’s a Boy! Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18.”
“You gradually focus the times you need (a stuffed animal or security blanket). They are times of transition,” Thompson said.
Indeed, bears, blankets and other such items are clinically referred to as “transitional objects.” Early on these cherished items help transition children from their parent’s arms to an empty crib. As children age, they become increasingly independent. Thus, the need for such parental substitutes lessens, Thompson said.
Boys tend to shed their stuffed animals sooner than girls. This gender difference likely stems from a more supportive peer group. Girls are less likely to judge a friend who clings to her favorite stuffed animal or doll, Thompson explained.
For parents such as myself with a child approaching this age, we’re forced to walk a fine line between being supportive and encouraging independence. Some parents find this difficult, as the end of a child’s love affair with a stuffed animal can be a jarring sign that the baby is growing up, Thompson said.
“You do give up these things in favor of real relationships,” he said.
And yet, countless children go away to college every year with a stuffed animal or tattered blanket tucked into their suitcase. They may still find security in having the blanket at the bottom of the drawer or a teddy bear guarding their bookshelf. As long as they don’t bring their blankie to class and suck their thumbs during a lecture hall, there’s no harm in holding onto these items, Thompson said.
It will be a sad day when Bubba gives up his bear — aka Buey — and likewise for Peter’s Froggy. And that being said, I don’t even remember the names of my beloved stuffed animals. Though I’ll bet my mom does.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notepad for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He can be reached at email@example.com.