Ingredients: One hand-picked cuddly toy that takes on monumental significance for your child. This cannot be prescribed by any adult and the bond cannot be severed once established. For my children, a very worn bear and a very straggly elephant have become the lynch-pin of our family lives

The Big Sell: You can’t sell this one – children will either find (what I call) a ‘special love’ or they won’t. However, I don’t think it’s coincidence that both my boys ‘attached’ to their chosen toy at precisely the age they gave up breast-feeding, and simultaneously started sleeping through the night, reassured by their new companion. Things can be helped along the way however, by imbuing the toy with your own mummy smell (sleep with it for a couple of nights or wrap it in your nightie) and some drips of milk to make it a little stinky. This is, of course, a classic example of a ‘transference object’ and helped make a strange unfamiliar world increasingly safe as they travelled the pathway of my children’s development hand in paw.

Strategy: If your child happens to choose a ‘special love’ there are many uses this toy can play in the child’s development. Below I will name only a few examples of how ‘Horace’ the bear and ‘Happy’ the elephant have enhanced my children’s lives.

  1. Getting dressed and potty-training: as both boys built independence skills between the ages of 2 – 3 their cuddly functioned as a pupil to learn alongside them; always less competent than their child companion, Horace or Happy would experiment with sitting on the potty headfirst, wearing trousers on ears, tying shoelaces, etc.. thus making the whole process quite hilarious and allowing the child to take the lead.
  2. Getting to know our community: dragged along on walks to the library, hairdresser, dentist, news agent, it wasn’t long before Horace and Happy were well known in our town, and gave my children an excuse to practice talking to adults overcoming shyness. Both children have chosen voices that they use to speak as Happy and Horace, which they can often find even if they can’t find their own.
  3. Behavioural stumbling blocks: when going through tough times – the arrival of a new sibling, separation at pre-school, tears & tantrums – these raggedy heroes bore the brunt. They have been punch-bags, night watchmen and sick bed nurses. As a parent it is particularly useful for me to tackle jealousy or attention-seeking behaviour by exploring the issue through the cuddly, explaining to the child that I’ve noticed Horace has been a bit challenging recently – what do they think he is feeling? Shall we put Happy on the bottom step until he has calmed down and can talk nicely? You don’t feel like reading your school book – why not teach Horace how to read the first page, then maybe Mummy will help him to read the rest to you?
  4. Battling the war of materialism! When money gets tight it is useful to have a special toy that demonstrates the power of devotion and loyalty. When we were waiting in the late night pharmacy the other day, ill and bedraggled, we held our special loves up against all the new fluffy toys on the shelves and noticed how different they looked. Why did they look different? Because we could see the love all over them, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. On bored days, we have made new hats, costumes, masks for our old favourites, rather than trading in old for new.
  5. The power of imaginative thought: one of my most powerful childhood memories was approaching my Mum when she was baking in the kitchen and saying in an important voice that I had just remembered it was Belinda the Bunny’s birthday – we needed to throw an urgent party! My Mum would never say ‘Not now’ but react in deadly seriousness that she would immediately fill small bowls with party food and sandwiches, I could even help her make a cake. The gift that this selfless act taught me was that my creativity was important, my spontaneity was valued, my magical world had the potency to be real to another – it gave me my artistic centre and made me feel capable of anything.

The Verdict:

I cannot imagine how my children could have survived their childhood without these beloved comrades. Sometimes my eldest experiments with testing his love for his cuddly by saying “But Horace, you’re only a toy!” to which I respond (in Horace’s voice) “How dare you! I’m not only a toy! I am a real bear with real feelings and I really love you and will do forever!” and my son joyously throws his arms around his bear, and says “I know you are – I was only teasing!” Compassion, companionship, and a rich imagination have grown from the strength of this bond. Having an alter-ego as you grow gives you the chance to experiment with right and wrong, taking the leap whilst holding hands with someone.

Catchphrase: Can we take Horace and Happy too? Of course, it wouldn’t be the same without them.

Left wanting more?

If your child is bored they can make a song, a book, a painting, a costume, decorate a cake for their special toy. Allow your child to shine in showing how they have learnt to care for another, feeling the warmth of giving rather than receiving, and then you will always be able to tell your child how they are so caring and kind.