Stuffed animals

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Teddy bears like this one are the prototype for beloved stuffed animals. Teddy bears are named after President Theodore Roosevelt and date back to 1902. (Photo courtesy of Darcy Meehan)

Almost every child develops a strong attachment to a stuffed animal they receive at a young age. Stuffed animals provide comfort and security for little children and serve as a childhood memento for those more grown up. 

As kids get older, they lose their attachments to their toys. Instead of holding the stuffed animal every night to go to sleep, they may leave the stuffed animal on their bedside table, or worse, stick it in their closet.

However, not all people disconnect from their toys in this way. Some people still care for their childhood playthings and may even sleep with a stuffed animal into adulthood.

Functions of Stuffed Animals

Chloe Cragg, sophomore, had a favorite stuffed animal as a child. She had an arctic fox that she got from Canada.

“It had the premium spot on my bed right next to me… It’s like there’s someone there with you making you feel safe,” said Cragg.

Stuffed animals can alleviate the worries of young children by providing something to hold. If a child thinks a monster is under the bed, a stuffed animal can protect against that fear.

Natalie Vargas Kitchens, sophomore, also has a stuffed animal from her youth that holds special meaning for her. She has a Beanie Boo penguin with a Santa hat that she calls Panga. 

“Panga was a little friend for an only child,” said Vargas Kitchens. 

The stuffed penguin does not just serve as a playmate for Vargas Kitchens. It also symbolizes the bond between her and her father.

“My dad got her at a gas station, so it reminds me of my dad because he always works on holidays and doesn’t travel with us,” said Vargas Kitchens.

For Vargas Kitchens and others, stuffed animals represent connections with loved ones. When you hold a stuffed animal someone else gave to you, you feel close to that person even though they are not there.

Mya Whittington, senior, also has a childhood comfort item, but it is not an animal, it is a blanket.

“I still sleep with it. It’s comforting. Its smell reminds me of home and happiness,” said Whittington, over text.

Whittington has had her blanket since she was little, meaning it holds many memories for her. Stuffed animals and blankets can serve as reminders of childhood and take us back to earlier years.

Why People Sleep With Stuffed Animals

Humans feel comforted by physical contact, especially in the form of hugging. Hugging someone can calm you down because it releases dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters in the brain, which elevate mood and reduce anxiety. 

When a parent leaves the room at night, a child may get scared, and a stuffed animal can substitute for a hug from mom or dad. This comfort is also why people may hug a pillow at night to fall asleep. 

Stuffed animals do not just provide a sense of security. There is a biological response that comes from the act of holding an object tightly, causing a person to relax and have an easier time getting to sleep. Weighted stuffed animals and blankets can be especially helpful to relieve stress because of the extra pressure.

Should Teenagers Use Stuffed Animals

Stuffed animals are generally associated with children, and most people stop using them when they get older. When kids become teens, they tend to age out of toys, and that includes their stuffed animals.

Some teenagers may think it’s lame to sleep with a stuffed animal, or simply have one in their room because it is childish. However, getting older does not mean that a stuffed animal cannot provide you with comfort.

“If that’s what you’re into, then use a stuffed animal, I’m not judging. I probably will bring mine with me [to college] for a little piece of home,” said Vargas Kitchens.

Some teens may take their favorite stuffed animal with them when they move away to college or a job. A stuffed animal can provide solace to people who are away from their parents for the first time and feeling homesick.

“We should absolutely sleep with stuffed animals, they’re great,” said Whittington.

Teenagers can definitely use stuffed animals if they want to. People enjoy stuffed animals for sentimental reasons, or because they can help relieve stress. If you have not picked up your childhood stuffed animal in a while, go give it a squeeze, and you may find the same security you felt as a little kid.

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