In the Peanuts comic strip, the character Linus van Pelt is always seen with his trustworthy security blanket. What is it about a simple blanket that lets certain children feel so safe around it, and why do they become so agitated when it is taken away from them?
Psychologically speaking, the idea of attachment plays a heavy role in the child’s obsession with their security blanket (or any other comfort object, such as a teddy bear).
An infant’s perception of the world is very limited and it cannot understand the concept of “self” until it develops further. In fact, it is theorised that an infant believes that whatever it wishes, the mother (still considered by the infant as “self”) will bring it to it, thus creating an illusion of omnipotence.
When the realisation that there is something other than “me”, the baby becomes frightened. It suddenly understands that the mother and it are not one, but two separate beings. At this point, it loses the sense of omnipotence and realises it is dependent on others, creating a loss of independence.
Losing its independence and a large portion of itself (the mother), the baby becomes confused and anxious, a phenomenon paediatricians call infant’s lament. The baby tries to comfort itself by attaching itself to its first “not-me” possession – such as a blanket or teddy bear, also called a transitional object. This then allows it to be separate from the mother for periods of time. The transitional object is a reminder to the baby that it still has some control over life and some independence, which gives it comfort and allows the baby to sleep better at night (literally).
Thus, the security blanket is aptly named, as it provides the baby with the confidence and security to adapt to the new world, allowing the baby to grow and develop into a social being.
When the baby develops into a child, it develops its own sense of self-confidence so that it can detach from the transitional object. However, some children never detach themselves and the security blanket persists for a longer time. Unfortunately, this is often found socially unacceptable and seen as a sign of weakness.
Interestingly, studies show that these children are often more independent than other children, due to their ability to be less dependent on their parents. The security blanket never criticises or doubts the child’s abilities, therefore gives the child a source of infinite confidence.
Another research by Lucy van Pelt shows that removal of the security blanket from a child results in withdrawal symptoms such as fear, panic, perspiration, glazed eyes and unconsciousness within 50 seconds.