Retiring Special Friends

Retiring Special Friends: HoagiesGifted Blog Hop

True story. I spent one winter holiday in Italy with my father’s family, while my parents went on a vacation by themselves. My one uncle believed that I was too old to still be sleeping with a teddy bear. So, the day after my 10th birthday – as I slept in bed – my teddy bear was removed from my arms.

When I woke up and demanded to know where my special friend was, all the adults decided that lying to me would be better than just simply saying, “Grow up, girlie. You’re too old to carry around a stuffed animal.” Instead, they made up a story about how a giant mouse must have crept into my room and thought my teddy would make good bedding for her children.

I was furious. I never got my teddy bear back.

For decades, academic papers and professional conference workshops have addressed the idea of transitional objects – blankies – teddies – those highly attached-to cuddle objects that go from hand to floor to mouth to bed without a second thought from the same mom who snatches the pretzel away from baby even if it falls within the 5-second rule. A pretty sound consensus exists that cuddle objects are not psychologically damaging to children. And, more importantly, no specific age exists for when special friends should be retired from everyday life.

Researchers now know that humans have a naturally occurring cuddle hormone – oxytocin. Petting a beloved pet, getting a hug from someone we know, or clutching a special friend can stimulate our brains to release oxytocin. With oxytocin in our system, a person is more disposed to bonding, trusting, and building empathy with other people that they know.

One psychologist from the University of Michigan, Dr. Christopher Peterson, once conducted an informal poll on special friends. How many college students had brought their stuffed animal to school? According to Peterson, roughly 80% of his female students and 10% of his male students in his mid-size lecture hall class publicly acknowledged bringing their lovey object to college.

Age: Unknown
Belongs to: Maria Hurley
(© Mark Nixon courtesy of Abrams Image)

It can be hard to watch our children grow up with few friends in life. When you’re an outlier, it can happen.

Oftentimes, it’s not a matter of our children not having appropriate social skills. Rather, it’s more a matter of not having an appropriate peer group. We see the sad effects of ostracism with children who have a physical disability or cognitive limitations, yet we never think to blame those children for not being more socially adept.

So, why do we find fault with our gifted kids when they are not accepted by their age-peers? Worse yet, why do we feel compelled to disallow them the comfort of their one true friend who has always stood by their side?

As parents, we strive to nurture our children into confident people who can find their comfortable niche in society. It can be painful to let our kids make decisions – like carrying a stuffed animal around in public – that may ultimately lead to teasing. (Or, is it the disapproving looks from other parents we fear?)

No straight-forward answer exists to the question of when is the right time for a treasured friend to be retired to the bedroom. But, I will leave you with one query to consider, if you’re struggling with this issue?

What would Calvin say?

What are your thoughts about ‘special friends’?
Is there an age when they should be banned from leaving the house?

HoagiesGifted August Blog Hop About Gifted Friendships

This blog post is part of the HoagiesGifted August Blog Hop. Visit Hoagies’ Blog Hop home page to read more about gifted children and friendships, written by other professionals and parents of gifted kids.



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. homeschooled her children from kindergarten into college. Over the last 15+ years, she has also worked with families in creating individualized learning plans. As a professional curriculum developer, Alessa has created afterschool youth development programs for a Baltimore-based nonprofit, as well as teaching materials for homeschool parents and brick and mortar school teachers.

3 thoughts on “Retiring Special Friends

  • August 1, 2014 at 7:36 am

    Such an interesting take on attachment objects and how they mean so much to so many children and teens.

  • August 3, 2014 at 5:06 am

    I never had special friends, but my older cousin did. His little toy was with him all the time, and it was really stinky. His parents tried all sorts of ways to get rid of it, but were not successful. I do not know what happened in the end.

    He is very smart, possibly gifted, and you are right about not denying such children who do not have age-peers. Reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes.

  • August 18, 2015 at 1:57 am

    Ouch, so sorry about your teddy bear. I cried so hard after my tattered blankie “disappeared” – it miraculously reappeared a day or two later.

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