Some families shower toddlers with oversized stuffed friends to squeeze and join in tea parties and dress-ups. Others save heirloom teddies to pass on. The benefits of stuffed animals are many and extend beyond toddlerhood to many of life’s transitional phases.
Stuffed Animals Provide Comfort
Stuffed animals provide portable security. This is especially important during “transitional” phases, such as starting pre-school or visiting distant relatives for the first time. Stuffed animals are familiar friends in new surroundings. Stuffed animals are important “transitional objects” that teach young children that they don’t always have to rely on their parent or adult caregiver for support and comfort. The toy becomes a physical embodiment of security.
As children grow into young adulthood, they often bring their favorite childhood stuffed toy with them through stressful transitions from middle school to high school and high school to college. Adults find stuffed animals work as sleep aids and help alleviate loneliness.
Stuffed Animals Soothe Anxiety
When people feel stressed, they tend to experience the “fight or flight” reaction and need some kind of physical release. With children and some adults, that means an impulse to grab something, often a parent’s hair or another person’s hand. Stuffed animals give children something to grab and squeeze when they feel anxious. Adults may also find that stuffed animals help soothe anxiety and depression.
Children begin to develop social skills, language skills, and coping skills by interacting with their stuffed friends. They begin to learn imaginative play, how to share, and how to have conversations—even if they are imaginary conversations between two stuffed friends. Playing as a parent to a stuffed animal builds a child’s confidence and gives them a sense of control over an otherwise big and confusing world. The benefits of stuffed animals include helping with overwhelming emotions—talking to a stuffed animal or acting out worries with a safe, comforting stuffed friend helps children learn coping processes.
An Important Note: Always Remember Safety and Hygiene
Before you choose a stuffed animal for your child or grandchild, check for safety. Avoid glued-on features like eyes and noses that can pull off and become choking hazards. String or hair that pulls off will end up in a child’s mouth. Check for wires that could poke through and cause injury. Stuffed animals gather dust and dust mites, which can worsen allergies and asthma, so read tags and find out if the toy is washable. Determine if you can remove electronics in order to keep the toy clean. Remember, never put a stuffed animal in a crib or allow a baby to fall asleep with one, as these situations create a risk of suffocation.
When safely used and kept clean, stuffed animals provide emotional and educational benefits to children and ease anxiety and loneliness in adults.