This fabulous title came from the 45th Peanuts television special that was released in 2011. The full title was Happiness Is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown, and was the first television special produced without the direct involvement of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, who died in 2000.

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In this episode, Linus – the best friend of Charlie Brown – is stressed about the fact that his grandmother is coming to visit and intends to get rid of his “childish” security blanket. As his grandmother’s arrival approaches, the Peanuts gang tries to help Linus learn to cope without his blanket – to the extent of Linus’ sister Lucy trying her own psychiatric techniques. The episode culminates with Linus sharing the insight that everyone has some kind of “security blanket” and that a little security is no bad thing.

 

This got us thinking! What is the importance of security blankets – or equivalent items? Are they something to be encouraged or discouraged? Psychologists define “security” or “transitional” objects as items that people feel a bond with, even when the relationship is somewhat one-sided. They are not necessarily just restricted to children: a survey in 2010 by Travelodge of 6000 British adults found that 35 percent admitted to sleeping with stuffed animals, and likened this attachment as being similar to a child’s grip on a security blanket.

 

Research in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology has shown that children taking their security blankets to the medical appointments exhibited less signs of stress in terms of blood pressure and heart rate levels. In fact the main reason children adopt a transitional object in the first place is because it relieves stress. The world is big and scary, unknown and dark and noisy, so a child can take great comfort from an item that is familiar and safe.

 

For a child with autism or other complex health needs, a security blanket – or similar item – can feel like a life saver. A simple object can make all the difference by relieving daily stress and helping the child to sleep. But how does this work?

 

Psychologist Donald Winnicott, who introduced the concept of the transitional object, explains that the security blanket is often an item that a child of around 4 to 6 months old, uses to help separate itself from its mother. In this sense, the security blanket reinforces the idea of “not me” and help the child begin to accept itself as a separate entity from its mother. The child uses the security blanket  to help them feel secure during this very scary time.

 

It can also be similar for adults. Kaitlin Lipe, now 24, has a stuffed pink cow as her security blanket. It is more than two decades old now, but she still can’t part with Puff, saying: “She is a reminder of my childhood, has always been a comfort to me, and is in every way a symbol for the happier times in life,”

 

A 2008 study in the Journal of Judgment and Decision Making revealed that people of all ages are likely to cherish items more when the item is fun to touch, said Suzanne Shu, a professor of behavioral sciences in the school of management at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Part of the story of what happens with touch is it almost becomes an extension of yourself,” she said. “You feel like it’s more a part of you, and you just have this deeper attachment to it.”  Whether that item is an actual blanket, or a doll or soft toy or item of clothing is immaterial. The concept of a security blanket is alive and well!

 

According to psychologists, a deep emotional attachment to an objects is called “essentialism,” and is based on the idea that objects are more than just their physical properties. So in the example of Kaitlin Lipe, simply substituting another pink cow for Puff would not work. It has to be the actual object not just another object that is exactly the same. University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood confirmed this by studying people’s sentimental attachments to objects, and using brain imaging to measure what goes on in peoples’ minds when they watch videos of what they believe to be their cherished objects being destroyed.

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Last autumn a lovely example of essentialism went viral. Jake Thomson is 3 years old and from Liverpool. He is autistic and has also been diagnosed with Neurofibromatosis Type 1 – a genetic condition that causes tumours to grow along his nerves. During an outing with his family he lost his precious Simba blanket. The blanket was his constant companion and, particularly with Jake’s heightened sense of smell and touch, no substitute could take its place. Jake’s mum Carolyn contacted the Liverpool Echo to make an appeal to the public to help find Simba and return it, and the story went viral with the hashtag #findsimba. Fortunately the story has a happy ending and Simba was found in a Poundland store.

 

Is Linus right? Does everyone have some kind of security blanket? If so, can we just accept that it can be a positive part of life that has a purpose and a function rather than giving it some kind of stigma? We’ll leave you to ponder those questions!

 

At Freedom Care we understand the need for security and familiarity and incorporate these elements into the person-centred care that we offer. You can read more about this elsewhere on our website and, as always, we’d be happy to help you further if we can do so.

 

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