Do you remember your first best friend? Did they smile when you smiled? Did they laugh when you made jokes? Did they hold your hand when you were feeling scared? Protect you from the bad things and comfort you in face of the sad things? Now, was that best friend a person? Or perhaps, if you really think about it, that first best friend wasn’t a person at all. Perhaps, that very first best friend had soft fur and diamond hard eyes…
For most children, the first relationship that they develop outside of their family isn’t with a teacher or a babysitter, but with a special stuffed animal. Stuffed animals provide children with comfort, companionship, and make agreeable partners in crime. They are the perfect audience, attentive and encouraging. Children practice all sorts of skills with their stuffed animals. They teach, talk, and take care of them, and in so doing, rehearse everything they have learned through observation.
Stuffed animals are so much more than just toys. Children learn through play, and in playing with stuffed animals they are in fact building their first relationships. Children will personify their plushies; give them names and assign them characteristics. Through these relationships, children learn how to care for someone outside themselves, how to empathize, and how to share. Basically, these first relationships serve as practice runs for the real thing.
Additionally, stuffed animals make for a great audience! Children who chat with their plushies are practicing their vocabulary, trying out new words, and gaining confidence in their speech. A stuffed animal is a confidante, and someone with whom a child can try out the words he or she hears during the day. These pretend conversations are also an excellent way for children to practice expressing their emotions and giving voice to their thoughts.
COMFORT & CONFIDENCE
A child can find considerable comfort just by touching and feeling a stuffed animal. Stroking their soft fur, holding them close, and cuddling them can significantly reduce the stress of an unfamiliar situation. The sense of security that such a familiar toy evokes can help a child have the courage to face new situations. With their best friend in tow, a child won’t feel so alone, and things like going to daycare for the first time suddenly become a lot less scary.
IMAGINATION & INDEPENDENCE
Finally, there are no limits to the games that children can play with their stuffed friends. Stuffed animals can become intergalactic princesses, super heroes or pirates, and they can embark on grand adventures together. This kind of imaginative play is essential to a child’s development, as it is through these games that they start to make sense of the world. These games also offer an opportunity for children to feel in control and so gain independence. Often, they will take on the role of teacher or leader; a role they don’t otherwise get to experience. With the help of stuffed animals, imagination breeds independence and vice versa.
The power of play is not to be underestimated nor are the soft toys that accompany that play. A stuffed dinosaur can be a best friend, a peer, a teacher, and a safety blanket, and provide your child with endless hours of undemanding companionship. These relationships build such essential social skills as caring and sharing, and will pave the way for a happy, hopeful childhood.