During the first year of your child’s life, keeping the crib free of blankets, toys, and pillows is an important aspect of safe sleep. The AAP doesn’t recommend any of these items in the baby’s crib until they are at least 12 months old.
After your child’s first birthday, if you want to introduce a lovey, or stuffed toy, to them while they sleep, you can. Not all children will take to a lovey right away. I mean, they just went a year without one!
So what’s the benefit of introducing a lovey to a child?
For some kids, having a stuffed animal in their crib can help them feel safer and more comfortable. If your child wakes up early in the morning, they can keep themselves entertained with their lovey instead of calling out for you. And some parents find that a special toy, especially for older toddlers, can help solve overnight trips to mom and dad’s room.
While you may introduce a lovey any time after your child is one, I encourage you to tune in to your younger child (12 months – 18 months) to see if they really need one. For some, toys can cause a distraction at bedtime and prevent them from sleeping well.
Below, I’ve compiled my top tips on how to introduce a lovey to your toddler.
Tip #1: Put the lovey in with your child’s other toys that they play with daily.
The easiest way to see if your child will gravitate to one specific stuffed toy is to put the new plushies in with the rest of the toys they play with daily. A new toy will intrigue them and they may be attached to it for the first few days or weeks.
In this case, it becomes an easy transition to bring that buddy to bed with them. In fact, many parents probably will find that this method is how their kids generally end up with toys in their bed: they are so attached to them that they don’t want to give them up for naps or bedtime.
As long as the toys are soft (imagine your child accidentally rolling on to a hard plastic helicopter at 2 a.m.), then it’s perfectly okay to let them take their favorite toy to bed with them.
But did you see that? I said “toy.” Not “toys.”
To keep the crib or bed a place where we sleep and not play, it’s important that you only encourage one toy in bed with your child. At least to begin.
Once your child has proven that plushies don’t interfere with their sleep, then as they get older, allowing more stuffed buddies into their bed isn’t an issue.
But since the purpose of this post is how to introduce a lovey to your child, it’s best to stick with one at a time.
For some parents, they may find it better to introduce the lovey separate from the child’s other toys to maintain “this is your sleep lovey to keep you safe and comfortable, it’s not a fun toy to play with.”
If that sounds more your style, tip number 2 is for you.
Tip #2: Have your child pick out a special lovey, or introduce the lovey to them separate from their other toys.
Maybe you have a plush elephant that your first child loved and you want to introduce that to your second child.
Or maybe your mom bought a cute duck for Easter that you want your child to use.
Or maybe you want your toddler to pick out a new stuffed buddy that they can turn to in the middle of the night when they wake up scared instead of running to mom and dad.
Whatever the reason, to execute this tip, introduce the lovey (or the idea of the lovey if you’re going to the store to pick one out) at a quiet time.
Giving your child a stuffed unicorn while they are running around playing after naptime will communicate to them, “Hey, here’s a new toy to play with!”
Instead, wait until after bathtime when your child is winding down to bring out the new friend. At that point, your child will begin to associate the lovey with bedtime.
If the purpose of introducing a lovey is to solve a specific sleep problem, like your toddler leaving their room in the middle of the night, be sure to communicate this with them.
You might tell them, “We’re getting you a new friend to help you at night! When you wake up and it’s still dark outside (or the toddler clock is still red), you will get up and grab this special horse from your dresser instead of coming to get mommy. The horsey will keep you safe and snuggle with you!”
If your child isn’t quite old enough to understand that, or you’re not introducing it for a sleep issue but rather just to provide comfort, then you won’t need to explain it to them.
Tip #3: Keep the lovey in their crib or bed after sleep times.
One of the perks of introducing a lovey is that it becomes a sleep association for your child. Once they see their soft bear, their mind associates it with sleep. In order to make this connection for your child, it’s a good idea to keep the lovey in their crib or bed even when they wake up.
“But Katie,” you might be thinking, “my child loves their stuffy so much. They love to bring it around the house with them. And I can’t imagine a car ride without it!”
That’s okay! Allow your child to form that bond with their stuffed friend. As long as bringing it around with them doesn’t interfere with their sleep (as in, they wake up at midnight and start playing with their lovey for an hour before going back to sleep), then I’m all for it!
We just don’t want the new lovey to become a common toy for them that they don’t even care about it. If they’re used to seeing it after breakfast on the living room floor, in the car on the ground, or stuffed between the couch cushions, they may not find it special, and they may not care to sleep with it.
However, if we keep it in their room and they know it’s to help them sleep and to protect them, it keeps its uniqueness.
And that brings us to my last tip.
Tip #4: If your child doesn’t immediately take to the lovey, carry it around with you.
Wait. Didn’t I just say to leave it in their rooms? Yes, yes I did.
If after leaving it in their room for sleep times your child still isn’t taking to the lovey, then start carrying it around with you.
Not only will your scent rub off on the lovey, but your child will begin to see it in their everyday life and begin to trust it. Let your child hold on to it while you are snuggling together on the couch. Let them hold it while you’re reading a bedtime story. Soon, they will begin to associate the lovey with you, and ultimately safety and comfort.
Introducing your child to a stuffed buddy is done for many reasons, but the top ones are to help foster a safe, comfortable environment in which to sleep.
To successfully introduce the lovey, put it with the toys they love to play with. Seeing a new toy will immediately grab their attention and cause them to hang on to it for a while. If that doesn’t seem to work for your child, then introduce it at a special time, like after bathtime. Tell your child that their new stuffy will keep them safe and give them snuggles.
To ensure the lovey remains a “sleep thing,” leave the toy in the bed when they wake up. Your child will begin to understand that their buddy is a sleep buddy and that’s it. However, if your child clings to their lovey during the day, that’s okay, too! We just don’t want to lovey to get thrown to the ground and forgotten during the day.
And lastly, if your child doesn’t seem to take well to a lovey, then carry it around with you. Bring it to storytime. Snuggle the lovey on the couch. Sleep with it for a few nights. Not only will this allow your scent to rub off on it, but it will show your child that the lovey is an extension of you and it will comfort and protect them while they sleep — just as you do.
I hope these tips help as you decide which buddies to introduce to your child. And if you’ve tried something that you want other moms to know about, message me on Instagram and I’ll share with others!