Emotional Support Objects: Childish or Functional?

Tiktoker Camille Munday went viral for her daughter’s attachment to a wad of hair. In this video, Camille is out on a mission to Target in hopes of finding her daughter a doll to replace her strange attachment to the tangled wad of human hair she carries with her everywhere.

Though most children do not carry around chunks of human hair, the idea of an emotional support item is quite common–especially in Western culture. Blankets and stuffed animals being most common, children often cling to these objects in every part of their life. From trips to the park to sleeping in beds, these objects never leave a child’s hand.

The American Psychological Association has determined that this link to inanimate objects for comfort refers to the initial separation between a child and their parent–specifically in the transition from sleeping together to sleeping alone at night. These objects are “spontaneously chosen and used by a child” and “ease the anxiety of separation from their […] mother, until the child has established a […] mental representation of her, that provides a sense of security and comfort.” Because these children are not physically with their mothers, their object of choice initially serves as an emotional crutch to bear those moments without her.

While adults have developed a clearer understanding of their mother’s existence regardless of her physical presence having regularly spent time away from them, they psychologically have less of a need for emotional support objects. However, many people still feel connected to their emotional support objects into their adulthood. In 2017, a study conducted by Build-A-Bear found that 40% of their respondents still sleep with teddy bears as adults. Aside from childlike objects like stuffed animals, many adults identify things like cell phones or even water bottles as their emotional support objects. 

This past week, my Spanish 121 professor, Dr. Leticia Espinosa invited her students to bring a stuffed animal to our upcoming oral exam, to soothe any stresses we students may experience that day. As a proud stuffed animal mother myself, I will be choosing to be a part of this experience with my class. 

Dr. Espinosa’s invitation piqued my curiosity on the subject–would it be socially acceptable to bring my stuffed animal to an exam where this practice was not explicitly permitted? What about non-academic situations? Being an out-of-state student, I fly home often, and my stuffed animal comes with me sometimes to “keep company” at the airport.

I feel no shame in bringing Moosey, my stuffed Moose, with me on rare occasions like travel days but I also believe that carrying around a stuffed animal everywhere I go is not socially acceptable as an adult. Bringing along a stuffed animal to anxiety-inducing situations like job interviews or even dates most likely may do more harm than good, but a less alarming object could be the link between comfort and subtlety.

According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, 7.1% of the U.S. population struggles with Social Anxiety Disorder., so it may be more common than one thinks for individuals to require a comfort object. From “happy stones” to fidget rings or sensory objects that can be added onto keychains, there are many affordable items that could aid in comfort for an adult in stressful situations.

Though children are most commonly known for their attachments to inanimate objects, adults often find themselves having attachments as well. Next time you have a stressful exam, think about bringing along your stuffed animal, or consider looking into things like fidget rings or soothing stones to aid in a more subtle form of comfort. Anxiety is normal, so let us make support in all forms normal too, across all ages (with the exception of a wad of human hair).

(Featured image credit: Abby Stoy)

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