Against The Grain
Recently my 8 year old son asked us to buy him a stuffed bunny to match the one his 4 year old step sister carries around. Although my husband was not overly excited about the idea, I bought him the stuffed bunny. Now, he carries it everywhere he goes! He has named him Geoffrey and he spends time talking to him and “feeding him”. When he wants to bring Geoffrey into the grocery store, my husband is reluctant to allow it but I am persistent on letting him take Geoffrey everywhere we go! So, I write this post in honor of parents who are reluctant to allow their child to have such security items, especially when it almost seems like a regression. Before I get into the specific reason, he is 8! Why are we in such a rush to make our children grow up? He has been on this earth for 8 very short years, I am in no rush to make him be an adult. If he wants to act like an 8 year old and have a stuffed animal, then I will allow it. He is a child, let him be one! He will have tons of time to be an adult, we are only children for a short time in our life, don’t make it shorter!
1. Imagination – My child has an imagination that impresses everyone! You can put him in the middle of a field with no toys and he will find a big leaf and stick and an epic battle will ensue. Funny story, I once took all of his toys away because he didnt want to clean his room. He was 5 years old at the time and I put all of his toys in his closet and taped an x on his closet doors and told him he can try again in a few days to play with his toys AND clean them up after….this did not effect his ability to have fun! I found him just 30 minutes later with a shoe making sound effects and flying this shoes around the house! His imagination exceeds most and I blame that on the blessing of ADD! Yes, I see ADD as a blessing! The fact that he wanted a stuffed bunny was because he needed a friend to play with. His mind is constantly at work. He likes to have someone listening to his epic battles at all times and frankly, there isn’t always someone there to spend the time listening to the ramblings of his amazing mind. This Geoffrey of his is always there and always listening! Have I noticed a decline in using his imagination during play with other children? NO! It hasn’t effected his play at all!
2. Security – We don’t have an insecure or dangerous home that would constitute the need for real security concerns. This is not the kind of security I am referring to. The last few months we were helping a friend out and allowed her and her daughter to move into my older sons room. This meant that my older son temporarily moved into my younger sons bedroom. I don’t think it is a coincidence that my 8 year old asked for a stuffed animal around the same time we were moving my older son back into his own room. Like I said before, his imagination is out of this world! That means that his precious little brain can wonder far into the deep dark depths of monsters and goblins in the middle of the night. With his stuffed bunny, he has a friend he can hold tight to and even talk to at night when he is having a little anxiety over the big dark room he is in all alone. I am a big believer in listening to kids fears, then allowing them to conquer them. So, when my children come out to the living room and tell me where there thoughts have taken them, we talk quickly about the reality of the situation and techniques to calm their minds. I tell them to talk to God, breath in and out slowly, think about the good things of tomorrow, etc… So, if my 8 year old has decided that he wants to use a stuffed animal as a way to cope with his nighttime fears, then I welcome it. It is still him, alone in his room, braving out the thoughts of monsters under the bed. Who am I to judge how he chooses to cope! As long as our coping skills are not hurting us or anyone else, they are typically deemed a good coping skill!
3. Reminder of happy times with his sister – My 4 year old step daughter carries around her “Baby Hop” every where she goes. We have had a very difficult few years gaining visitation rights over her and continue to struggle through parental alienation. One thing her mother decided was to teach my husbands child that if she brings baby hop to daddy’s house, we will loose it…no matter how many times she ask to bring her security item with her to daddy’s, she isn’t allowed! I will stop there in regards to that situation, before I say something I shouldn’t! So, what did we do? We bought her a bunny that looks close to identical to baby hop. Of course, we allow her to take this bunny back home with her because she wants to and it is hers which means she has the right to do so. Also, we don’t want to teach her that mommy will loose it or teach her revenge or vengeance of any type by saying things like well, since mommy doesn’t allow you to bring baby hop here, you cant bring this bunny there. So, long story short, this baby hop of hers has been a pretty big deal in our family. There have been many times when we thought we were going to have my step daughter at our home and she was ripped away early or wasn’t able to come at all thanks to momma bear issues…So, my son wanting the same exact bunny we bought her, is not a coincidence. It reminds him of his sister and allows him to feel a connection with her even when she isn’t there. This is especially important when our visits with her are always so unpredictable due to the nature of the situation. It also gives him something in common with her to talk to her about and something to play with her when she is here!
4. Child’s rights to personal objects – My children have a share all rule. We allow 3 days of no sharing when they get a brand new toy, after that, we share! However, everyone has a right to a personal object that they don’t have to share. This also plays right in with his rights to not share is personal body parts or his personal thoughts and feelings. Our children need to learn to share, but they also need to learn that sharing isn’t always appropriate! They know not to share their underwear, their tooth brush or their private areas with anyone else. What about their personal thoughts and feelings, they have those too and they only have to share these thoughts and feelings with other people if they decide to. This is their right as a human. What about a journal or a diary…don’t they have a right to keep those private? This bunny is something that my 8 year old keeps dear to his heart and he is allowed to share or not to share, it is a personal item therefor he has a right to choose. The right to choose is a very important skill to learn so anything that facilitates that lesson is okay in my book!
5. Child’s rights to make decisions – Stemming from the last point, our children should be taught to make decisions. I allow them to decide what to wear for example. If they think they have come up with a great outfit, I will encourage that and not judge their style….even if they come out in tights and an over sized spider-man shirt with slippers for shoes. Yes, there are times that I require dressing up a bit, but on a typical day, they have the power of choice! Now, I take the power of choice to a level most parents don’t. We unschool which means they choose what they learn as well. I know many parents struggle allowing their children out in public in unmatched clothes and thats okay! You can always present 2 or 3 outfits and allow them to choose between those, freedom of choice is important! Our children will not always have us there to make choices for them. If we make their choices until they are adults, they will be lost in a world of what to do next… This stuffed bunny of his is just another way to allow freedom of choice! If my child feels secure enough to take his stuffed bunny into a play area where other children are…thats awesome! That means he feels un-judged and secure in himself. He wears his Janimals constantly and he is okay with doing that around other kids. Why? Because I don’t judge him and I don’t allow my family and friends to judge him. In the big bad world we are all judged so harshly, the one place we should always feel un-judged is at home and hopefully you attend a church that doesn’t judge, but thats not always how it is. The only thing I can control is the judgement in my own home. Through things like this bunny, he has the freedom to choose where he brings the bunny and where he doesn’t!
6. Promotes better sleep – I personally sleep better when I have my husband next to me…how is that different from my son having his bunny next to him? How can I rationalize not allowing him to cuddle up to a stuffed bunny when I cuddle up to my husband? I can’t… I cannot rationalize not allowing him to have a comfort item at night when I have one myself! Before I was married, I had my 110 pound dog in bed next to me. I have never been one to sleep well at night with out something next to me, so I can’t bring myself to place a different standard on his sleeping habits then I have placed on my own!
There are many psychological reasons for our love of teddy bears. Not only are they reminders of our innocent carefree childhoods and of the loved ones who purchased the bears for us, but the stroking of the soft fur has also been found to be very therapeutic. On cuddling teddy bears, psychologist Corrine Sweet says “it evokes a sense of peace, security and comfort. It’s human nature to crave these feelings from childhood to adult life” (Llorens, 2012). Studies have shown that touching a teddy bear can lessen the adverse psychological effects of social exclusion and reduce stress (Jarrett, 2011). As a result, teddy bears are often given to trauma victims, including sexually abused children. Clinical trials have established that considerable comfort is obtained from cuddling, naming and speaking to a teddy bear. Various police, fire and paramedic departments routinely issue teddy bears to its officers because they are useful tools in reaching scared, lost, and traumatized children. ~Claire Harris
7. Confidence – Yes, believe it or not, a stuffed animal actually helps with a childs confidence!
These objects have magical powers. They ease away any kind of stress. They inspire confidence and security in all situations. And a child never leaves the house without it because holding it, smelling it and rubbing it brings immediate comfort. These objects help a child deal with absence, fear, separation and to discover how to calm themselves. In other words, helping them to grow up and learn to be self-sufficient and confident. ~Miriam Stoppard
So my 8 year old all of the sudden feels a need to carry around a stuffed animal, who am I to deny him of this innocent object that brings him confidence and security. For some reason he feels he needs this object and by taking the option away from, how would I be helping him?
8. Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. He nurtures this stuffed bunny. He is sure that Geoffrey is comfortable, safe, fed and happy. He is learning to care for someone else. Okay, it may not be a someone ELSE right now, but it is certainly good practice!
9. Cognitive Development – Any opportunity for open play promotes cognitive development. When you play make believe type games, it promotes problem solving skills, language development, and memory. Play even triggers the secretion of BDNF, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex. Anything that promotes make believe play time is a great thing to have!
10. Social Skills – Okay, this one seems to be a big concern for most people. Why would your child develop social skills when talking to a stuffed animal, wouldn’t that diminish social skills? No, it is good for social skills! When my son is taking care of Geoffrey, he is sharing with him, helping him, listening to him and loving him. Aren’t those skills we need in social situations?
Zerotothree.org speaks about supporting your child’s emotional and social development through pretend play:
Encourage pretend play. Children often express themselves more freely when they’re pretending. It may feel safer to talk about how Teddy Bear is afraid of the dark, than how the child is. Pretend play is also a chance to take on different roles and to act out what different people might say, think or do. This develops language as well as social skills like empathy.
If I noticed my child was taking his bunny and hiding away from other kids with it, then I would start leaving the bunny with a “baby sitter” or saying that he is really tired and needs to take a nap. That way we are still respecting his friend Geoffrey and eliminating the problem of only playing with a stuffed animal and not with friends. However, this is not an issue in our case.
Interestingly enough, when I went to take some pictures of my little one with his Geoffrey, I explained to him that he inspired a blog post. He said, “Really!” I said, “Yes, I am going to talk about all of the good things that come from having a stuffed animal to carry and hold all day.” He said, “Like imagination!“
Isn’t that beautiful! He logically understands that Geoffrey is not a “real friend” and he even understands how helpful Geoffrey is to him! Then during the pictures he picked a “flower” and had Geoffrey give it to me. He is teaching his Geoffrey to be a kind gentleman!
Does you child carry around a stuffed animal or a blanky? Let me know about it below!
By the way we found this adorable little Jelly Cat Bunny on Amazon and we love them!
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