Stores are full of them and there are even entire businesses dedicated to manufacturing and customizing soft toys. You may think the reason why stuffed animals are so popular is that they are cute and soft, but there is much more to that. Kids at all ages enjoy these toys, sometimes they even get attached to a certain toy for years, because for them, a stuffed animal is a companion they can interact with and relate to. According to experts, playing with soft toys can help children explore their feelings and emotions more easily. But what does that really mean? How exactly does a stuffed bunny or a teddy bear make it easier for kids to understand themselves and the world around them?
Provide a Much-Needed Comfort
Actually, the main function that soft toys serve is to ease distress and anxiety. Parents who’ve watched their children’s tears turn to giggles at the sight of their favourite plush toy know what this means. For little ones, the world can sometimes seem a scary, uncertain place. Stuffed toys can help children cope with these emotions because they represent familiarity and reassurance. Soft toys also play an important role in helping children gradually build their ability to self-soothe without the help of their parents. Big life events, like welcoming a little brother/sister, for instance, can feel less threatening with a favourite stuffed friend by your child’s side. In fact, research has shown that cuddling a plush toy helps young children rely on their own ability to seek comfort.
Soft Toys Help Kids Develop Social Skills
When you see your little one cuddling with their favourite stuffed toy, it may not look like play. But the truth is, these toys help lay the groundwork for important social skills. Experts say that the time between 12 to 18 months is optimal for starting using toys like stuffed dolls and animals to encourage pretend play. Pretend play often includes imitating familiar and everyday activities that grownups do, such as cooking and cleaning, that are part of their regular routines. But pretend play with stuffed animals shouldn’t be your child’s only option. Allowing your children to indulge in pretend play with other children is also important for their social development.
Foster Language Development
Pretend play is also a viable way of developing speech and language skills. When you help your child act out playful role-playing scenes, talking becomes a natural part of the process. What do you think encourages the best use of language – playing with blocks or interacting with dolls? Experts also say that telling a story by making stuffed animals ‘talk’ to each other is a powerful way of laying the groundwork for reading and writing.
Encourage Compassion and Empathy
When children care for their stuffed animals, they nurture their natural desire to connect with others. Research has shown that children develop an appreciation for relationships with others through pretend play because it requires them to consider other people. This explains why experts suggest introducing stuffed toys as new members of a classroom, as members that need love and care. In other words, taking care of a stuffed animal encourages a child to consider the toy’s needs.
When Is It Safe for Your Child to Sleep with a Soft Toy?
Experts say that it is best NOT to have any soft toys in your child’s cot until he/she is one year old. This ensures that their cot is a clean, safe place to sleep and reduces the risk of suffocating or accidents. Once your child turns one, then you can let him/her sleep with their toy. For increased safety, the soft toy you get for your kid should have a label marking the age it is meant for. It is very important that the soft toy you give to your baby is suitable for his/her age range. Also, avoid getting a plush toy that is as big as your baby. Your kid is much more likely to prefer small soft toys that he/she can easily hold.
What Else Should You Know About Soft Toys?
When it comes to washing them, don’t do it too often. The benefits that soft toys provide children are closely related to their smell – their beloved soft bunny smells like their mom’s perfume, home, and safety. You should also keep an eye on them – losing a beloved teddy bear can cause a lot of stress for your little munchkin. When some parents notice that their child begins to grow attached to a specific toy, they buy an identical copy of the soft toy to lower the chances of trauma should the beloved toy gets lost.
Also, know that your child has the right to love a toy that you don’t like that much. So, it really doesn’t matter if your child’s best friend is a plush car or a pink cat, a bear or a spider – love works in strange ways. And never, ever take away your child’s cuddly toy as punishment. Moreover, don’t laugh or make jokes about your child’s attachment to their beloved cuddly toy. Keep in mind that a child’s emotion requires unconditional acceptance and respect.