The Science Behind the Teddy Bear: Why Every Child Should Have One

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Image via Elizabeth MacDonald

A stuffed bear; the fluff, the fur, the sweet face, the sentimental value that accompanies finding the perfect one for your baby.  It all adds up to something so many parents brush off as unimportant, but in reality, it is so much more than ‘just another baby purchase.’

There is science behind the connection a child has with her teddy bear.

Separation of mother and baby is almost unavoidable in our current society.  Mothers are not granted adequate paid maternity leave, and most return to work well before they would like.  Even those who are able to stay home, they also face a point of separating from their baby; be it daycare, preschool, or just a babysitter.  These moments of separation are known as transitions; and science has proven that children who have a transitional object, such as a teddy bear or other soft item with a face, handle these moments easier than those without one.

The transitional object is meant to remind a baby of her mother. Throughout infancy, a mother holds and cares for her child, feeds and rocks her baby, as her child is holding this teddy bear or soft item. The baby will cuddle it, and begin to associate it with her mother. The bear will become a part of the relationship between the mother and child. It will become the comfort needed when the mother is not present. 

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As sad as it is to read, it makes sense:  Researchers found that children treasured their transitional objects as much as they treasured their mothers.  When you get over the shock of that statement, you can understand that a child needs security; she needs to feel safe.  When a parent is constantly coming and going, it is quite possible for that child to cling to their teddy bear for consistency.  This does not mean that a child does not feel a mother’s love.  It does mean, though, that an infant or toddler needs something that is ‘hers’ when he is away from her mother.

It may be easier to think of the perfect teddy bear as a magician.  This magical stuffed animal can ease stress, build confidence, soothe tears, and aid in social development.  It helps the child handle fear, anxiety, separation, and the unknown.  A teddy bear actually helps a child build self-confidence.

From infancy, the stuffed toy becomes a part of the baby’s life.  It collects the smells of mom, dad, siblings, pets, etc.  The soft fur has been proven to be a therapeutic tool in which, when rubbed by the baby can bring immediate comfort, calming and soothing her.  Infants and toddlers all seek ways to fill their sensory needs.  Parents also search for any way to aid their child in finding self-soothing ways.  A transitional object can be the bridge that both child and parent are looking for.

Again, the right stuffed animal for a child is not meant to replace the parent, and it would never do such a thing.  According to science though, a child can get as much satisfaction from holding, rubbing, and getting comfort from her ‘lovey’ when she is away from her parent than she gets when she is feeling comforted and safe with her parent present. 

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Not only are teddy bears the perfect transitional object for a child, but they have also been shown to evoke social development.  Nearing the six-month mark, babies begin conversing with those around them.  This is when the brain begins picking up conversational cues of talking with other beings and not just making sounds.  It is quite common for a baby to ‘chat’ with her toys.  This is why having a transitional object with an appealing and happy face is important.  The attachment the child has with her bear will be one of security and friendship.  While the bear cannot talk back to the baby, it does make eye contact and offer a ‘listening ear!’ All joking aside, it is a huge milestone for a baby to begin conversing with her toys.

There is a reason that many trauma centers, psychologists, and social workers utilize teddy bears when working with young trauma victims, including sexually abused children.  The comfort that comes with loving a stuffed bear can promote a safe environment in which a scared, lost, or hurt child will open up and feel safe again.  These children need the constant comfort of having their own bear, and may keep it for a longer period of time than most.

Allowing a child this connection with a teddy bear will benefit the child and the parents. Our society likes to judge parents for every decision made, but doing what is right for a child is up to no one expect the child’ parents. It is not an embarrassing decision to grant a child permission to carry a ‘lovey’ with her to a daycare or school, a grandparent’s house or to a friend’s; instead, it is the opposite.  This conscious choice will help the child transition into childhood, and later adulthood, easier and with confidence.

elizabeth-macdonald
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About the Author

Elizabeth is a passionate writer at My baby’s Heartbeat Bear, a pregnancy & baby showers gift store, focused on educating those open to learning.  She is also a pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, natural childbirth educator, former teacher and current homeschooler to her 4 young children. Check out Elizabeth's week by week pregnancy tips and parenting insights at her Pregnancy Blog.

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The Science Behind the Teddy Bear: Why Every Child Should Have One

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