Can you reintroduce a transitional object?

This age is just so horrible. Gotham Mom writes:

"My 3 1/2 year old has been a very good sleeper most his life, until dun
dun dun, the 3yo sleep regression. He started to climb out of the crib,
refused to stay in his room and then a week later we went on an
international trip, six time zones away. This really screwed everything
up. When we came back we moved his crib out and put in a bunk bed that
he shares with his sister, and added a baby gate to the door and he
settled into a good new routine.

Except.

7 months later he still is getting up more often than he had before he
turned three, and when he decided he no longer wanted his crib he also
gave up his froggie, which had been his transitional object. I am now
his transitional object, or his Dad, though Mom is where it's at. He
goes back to bed well most of the time but prefers to have one of us
cuddle with him (last night I was in there half the night and after I
fell asleep in his room I dreamed that I couldn't get him back to
sleep).

I asked him about his froggie tonight and he told me to "throw it away"
or give it to the bigger boy who lives down the block. He needs
something to cuddle with, but I would prefer it wasn't me or my husband
all the time. Any ideas on how to reintroduce or foster a new
transitional object!?

Thanks!

Ps older child is supremely attached to her blanket….thank goodness!"

Remember when I used to joke about starting a ranch to make Trained Monkey Assistants that you could use to soothe babies back to sleep and pop dropped pacifiers back into their mouths and bring you glasses of water and the remote control when you were trapped under a sleeping kid? This would be the perfect situation for a TMA. The TMA would lie there on the floor next to your son until he falls asleep, then get up, have a banana, and watch some House Hunters until it's time to go soothe your son back to sleep in the middle of the night.

Seriously, though, if he were 3, or 4, I'd say that you should just talk to him about creating a new bedtime routine that did or didn't involve a transitional object but didn't involve you being his transitional object. But since he's 3.5, his brain is all haywire and he could come up with a detailed plan with you about going to sleep and then a few hours later deny that he had any part in it and wig out. Remember that 3 1/2 year olds make no sense. And when you think they make sense, they're really just lulling you into a false sense of security so the next nonsensical tantrum will burn even more. It's like their spirit totem becomes the Venus flytrap for a few months.

So. I think you CAN introduce a transitional object, but you're going to have to be very sneaky and strategic about it, and use reverse psychology. I would pick something that is NOT cute and cuddly, but maybe something hard and a little fierce/scary, like a plastic robot or scary animal (something with sharp teeth). And then don't encourage it, and push on him a little about it (like asking him not to bring it to the dinner table, for instance) and express dismay if he wants to bring it to bed with him.

It may work or it may not. But froggie's dead on arrival at this point anyway, so it's worth a backhanded try with something else.

Has anyone done this at the age of 3 1/2? How did you do this and did it work and for how long?

18 thoughts on “Can you reintroduce a transitional object?”

  1. There is a 3 year old sleep regression?!?!? Ah HA! I knew something hinky was going on with my 2 yr + 11 mo old! So, when do they start going to sleep at 8 instead of 10 again?

  2. OMG that paragraph on the nature of a 3.5 yr old was so funny (and true)!Little Guy – who is 3.75 – most definitely still has his ratty ‘transitional object’ (aka Kitty) but he also likes to fall asleep with cars, toy trains, books or whatever strikes his fancy. There are some nights when there are so many toys in the bed there is hardly room for him. Buy hey, it works. For now.

  3. I know there was a point where metal dump trucks slept in the bed with the kids, but I don’t remember if it was 3.5 or not. There was also a period of time where every stuffed animal was in bed and I had to kiss them all goodnight one at a time and pretend that my child was just one of the many stuffed animals (and I remember the morning after he wet the bed and I had to figure out which stuffed animals needed to go to the day spa in the basement).I know 3.25 yrs was hours and hours of Super Nanny-style returning child to bed wordlessly every night, but at the time I thought it was because we transitioned out of the crib and into sharing a room with big brother and sweet-horrible-freedom-I-can-get-out-of-bed.

  4. At 3.5, we did night time potty training, which led to him getting up every night to pee, and then getting in our bed, which meant I never got back to sleep. This is when I introduced that clock, and said, “you can get up & get us to pee, but if the clock is yellow, you have to get back in your bed. If it’s green, you can get in our bed. He woke up one time after that, checked the clock, & RAN back to his bed. Never got up again in the middle of the night. I love that freaking clock so much.However, we did have an increase in the # of loveys….it went from a few stuffed animals in his bed to a whole mess – he calls them “his guys”. We said after he didn’t wear pullups at night anymore, he could have as many guys in his bed as he wanted. 🙂 They go back and forth in favor, but they all have to be there, and he checks and will let us know if any are missing. Giving him a flashlight helped at this point, so he had more control about what he saw & did after bedtime.
    I like Moxie’s suggestion of talking to him more and more during the day about going to sleep without you but with something awesome of his own choosing, and using a timer or a clock to make it “not your fault”. So starting with staying 30 minutes or whatever, then decreasing over time, moving to outside the room in the hall, etc…
    Good luck! 3.5 is so hard!

  5. I’m laughing at these descriptions cuz they’re so cute and funny 🙂 Also because my child is approaching 2.5 so I’m not in the thick of 3.5 yet… PHEW. My son’s transitional object (if I’m home) is me, and has been since day 1 (double-edged sword/blessing). I cherish how bonded we are, but we have tried to get him to have a “lovey” like his stuffed tiger (which is so soft and adorable) or his elmo, or his cat in the hat, etc. He likes them but he has pretty much never carried something around and hugged it incessantly and so forth. The closest was a period of about a week awhile back where he liked to have his glow-worm with him while nursing to sleep so he could turn it on and off. Also a short period of time where he wanted his Fifford (Clifford). I’m mixed about wanting him to adopt a transitional object and being somewhat proud that he doesn’t have any. No offense at all intended. I had many loveys, I remember that my stuffed animals had to be arranged in a very specific way under the blankets or I thought they would be angry with me/have hurt feelings and (potentially) attack me while I was sleeping. Ya. I wasn’t neurotic as a child at all. LOL.

  6. If you want him to want that froggie back, I suggest you offer it to his sister. At my house this would have caused an immediate abiding adoration to develop. Might still and they are 7 and 8.My technique for encouraging blankets/stuffed things as transitional object at this age was to talk about loading them up with ‘Mommy love’ and sleeping with them myself. My almost-9-year-old will still occasionally bring her special blanket in for a recharge and have me sleep with it a night or two. This technique does require multiple objects, AND it requires you to sleep with a blanket or stuffed animal, which might not be your thing. The cool thing about it is that it makes many objects available as a stand-in in a pinch (if my daughter forgot her special blanket at home, I occasionally left my gym t-shirt — lots of Mommy Love on that! — for her to snuggle at naptime.)

  7. I really like the idea of the “scary” stuffed animal transitional object – like one of those stupid sock monsters (http://www.stupidcreatures.com/) or some kind of stuffed animal that seems to be more aimed at tweens or an older crowd. Or one that is soft and snuggly but based on an animal that is fierce/dangerous in real life (like a wolf or snake).Good luck. 3 1/2 year old sleep is tricky.

  8. I agree with a new transitional object, and my suggestion is a dinosaur. Threes love dinosaurs! They are the perfect symbol of their need to feel powerful and toothy when clearly they are still so little. I would let him pick out “his” dinosaur at the store, too. His special friend that he can talk to at night but only if he stays in bed.DD is turning 11 and still has her falling-apart fuzzy blankie. She will go to sleepovers and summer camp without it, but the mangy thing still lives. I think it may be an only-child thing that it can be very difficult to get rid of stuff.

  9. I’d make sure the transitional object doesn’t become a play distraction. No moving parts like wheels, for instance. Because that’s totally an issue here. Also, no hard objects while you’re in the bed, because alas …..

  10. Does anyone have advice for encouraging a 15 mo old (whose never been interested in a transitional object, and who spends the first few hours of the night in a crib before moving in with us) to take to a lovey? I don’t think I can be his lovey all that much longer, not if it continues to involve his being attached to my breast for literally hours of the night (and only on one side – my back/neck are KILLING me)!But how do you create attachment to an object in a kid who seems utterly disinclined? His brother was the same – my “squishy arm” was his lovey – and that was both sweet and hard. But the littlest guy has taken it up a notch or ten with treating my breast as his pacifier, and I desperately need help! Ideas?!? Please??!?
    (Not to hijack the thread here, just to expand the age-range of kids at issue (: )

  11. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for this. I have a 3.5 year old girl and I’ve been feeling like a terrible parent for a couple weeks. Why do I never stop and think to myself “maybe it’s not me, perhaps she is biologically freaking out.” Thank you for providing such a supportive space for parents.

  12. @berivan, my son was very similar–no lovey, nursed all night (on only one side!), etc. I wanted him to have a lovey, so when we got serious about having him at least start the night in his own crib, we put a little stuffed sheep in there with him. He ignored it for months, but I just kind of left it there. Then, when he was around 15 months or so, his daycare teachers started talking about how all the kids in his class were starting to play with “babies”–dolls, stuffed animals, etc. and would try to rock them to sleep. So at home if he happened to pick up or interact with a doll or stuffed toy, we would make sure to call it “baby” and give it a hug. Within a few weeks, he one day just started noticing the sheep in his bed and calling it “baby.” First thing in the morning when I go in to get him, he says “baby” and picks up the sheep. After we nurse, he carries baby back to the crib and throws it in. When I put him down at night, he grabs the sheep and curls up with it. It’s great!Anyway, I guess my point it, we tried to set the stage for it to happen, but it really just had to be the right time (plus maybe a little peer pressure from the other kids at daycare). This was right around the age your kiddo is at now, so hopefully the switch will just flip for your guy too!

  13. Oh, my son is 3.75 and like an earlier poster, I sometimes wonder if there’s room for him in the bed with all the stuff he wants. He had the same lovey forever (a small blue teddy bear) and it was wonderful because no matter where we were if teddy was there sleep was happening. It was also great because non-compliance at bedtime meant teddy might have to sleep with mommy. Then one day he told me to take teddy and put him on the shelf (with the other stuffed animals) and since then it’s like russian roulette at bedtime. The past 2 nights he’s asked to sleep with a Melissa & Doug wooden dinasour puzzle??? At this point, I generally let him have whatever “lovey” he deems necessary at bedtime. Teddy has made it back to bed from the shelf but no longer holds any power. Last night he was playing with the puzzle and I told him if I had to come back in his room the puzzle was leaving and he said “No Mama, you can just take teddy.” I’m not sure that this is any help other than to say I’m there with you and sleeping at this age is tough and good luck with finding a replacement lovey!

  14. I read this post and I thought, oh my god, this is just what I’m dealing with except my daughter is 2.4 years! She used to be a phenomenal sleeper. On occasion, she’d wake up in the middle of the night and we’d move her from her crib to her pack n play and she’d almost immediately go back to sleep. The last couple of months, though, she’s been waking up in the middle of the night, wanting to cuddle on the couch before going back to sleep. We tried having her sleep in the bed with us, but it’s not really our cup of tea. I’m in need of a good deep sleep about now. (I’m a total bitch when I don’t get any sleep so this is doing me in!!!:) Like the post above, I’m not looking to hijack the thread on 3 1/2 year olds, but if you have any thoughts on what could help (someone recommended Ferberizing–correct spelling?), I’d be beyond grateful!

  15. Yeah, 3yo sleep regression + new sibling = 6 months of crazypants sleep around here. The only thing that has worked right now is:1. Letting her sleep with WHATEVER she wants – animal, doll, toy, etc. Today it’s the plastic snake she got at the eye doctor. She doesn’t have a specific lovey.
    2. Sticker chart (worked like a charm for potty training, too) with a reward at the end for 10 nights staying in bed and not crying for us. If I had known this, I would have brought it out 6 months ago!!! Our reward is a trip to the ceramic painting place, but last time it was a big wooden truck toy (Mack from Cars). I’m all for throwing money (and stickers) at the problem.

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