Favorite toy – why is it important?

Thinking about the importance of my favorite toys, it comes to my mind a boy who, on his way to kindergarten, did not want to separate himself from the dirty stuffed dog they wanted to take for hygienic reasons in kindergarten, and his “obsession with a regular toy” confused his parents as well.

But a  stuffed puppy is not just a toy, much less an ordinary toy. He is an important object that facilitates the process of separation from his mother. An object that will smell and warmly remind him of his mother and replace him when he is gone, and allow him to more easily withstand separation from his mother while in kindergarten. And that’s why parents, even if it’s dirty, should not wash it. A puppy is a boy’s ” transition object “.


How is a transition object created?

The English pediatrician and psychoanalyst DW Winnicott, in his 1951 Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena, explains the importance of the transitional object in the development of the child and its process of separation from the mother.

Winnicott was primarily concerned with the early mother-child relationship. Today we know that a child’s primary figure may also be the father or other adult who cares for him. As we speak here of the concept of the primary object introduced by Winnicott, we refer below to the mother as the primary figure.

At the very beginning of life, the baby is in a symbiotic relationship with its mother. The mother is there to respond immediately and meet all her needs. So, when the baby is hungry, the baby will cry and the mother will feed and calm her immediately.

In the baby world, she is omnipotent and has a sense of complete control over a mother who exists solely for her sake.

But gradually, after some time of such unity, a good enough mother will begin to extend the time to meet all the baby’s needs, thus enabling her to fantasize about the breast or bottle until her mother brings them and quenches the baby’s hunger. So the baby starts to fantasize and actually realizes that the breast is part of the mother’s body and is not just there for her. The baby will begin to use the memories of past beautiful and pleasant experiences with the mother, thus filling the space that separates her from her mother. This is how the so-called a transitional space in which the baby is able to shape the mother’s inner psychic image, a symbol that helps her to bear increasing distance from her mother. Transitional objects are also connected to the transition space. They represent the first child’s possession. It can be a blanket, a doll, a piece of sheets … something a baby can hold and pamper.

Thus, a plush puppy from the beginning of this text presents a toy and his mom to the boy. The boy will never ask what is true, because both are true. A puppy is a puppy and a puppy is a mom. And most importantly, it is special and cannot be replaced.

Except in the early days of kindergarten, it is good for the child to have it in all other situations, such as hospitalizations, in which the child is separated from the mother for the first time.


Transitional Object and Creativity

What I would like to emphasize here is that there is a game in the transitional space, and the transitional object can be characterized as the beginning of human creativity.

As Winnicott says, in playing, and only in playing, children, like adults, are free to exercise their creativity. Being able to play, enjoy the game and create something through it is a sign of mental health. Children and adults who cannot do so have a deficient transition space.

The child grows up and the transition object gradually loses its importance, but the transition space remains for us for life. It is where art, culture, religion and psychotherapy take place.


By: Iva Pupić, MD, psychiatry specialist

Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy. 

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