Transition object: Why a doll?


The doll, an important topic! It is a source of pleasure and security for the child who holds it tightly. But sometimes, it can also be a source of anxiety for parents, who can’t even touch it. This doll, also called a “transition object” by psychiatrists and preschool professionals, is an object that allows the child to make the transition between the familiar space and the outside world. Between the known and the unknown. It is a real support, which will allow the child to better cope with being away from his family and making the transition to the outside world.

Origin of the doll

Donald Winnicott, British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, creator of the concept, defines the transitional object as an essential object for the child’s psychic development. It was the Second World War that led him to examine the subject. To escape the bombing in London, some families decided to send their children to destinations less exposed to the conflict. Separation causes important disorders related especially to insecurity and the possible loss of parents. So in an attempt to reassure them, Winnicott then encouraged families to give their children a piece of clothing impregnated with his scent: thus the first transitional object was born!

Today, this object takes the form of a doll, a stuffed animal, a blanket or anything else that allows the child to establish the emotional link between his family and the outside world.

vintage photo doll

Transition object or not

It is generally between four months and a year when the child usually gets his own object. This usually corresponds to the moment when the baby can grasp it. Teddy, scarf, blanket, pacifier, piece of cloth… each baby will have a specific transition object. To the baby it represents a smell, a tactile sensation, or another sensory stimulus that calms and reassures him.

However, there are children who do not have any object and prefer to suck their thumb, listen to a story that they especially like or even remember something that calms them down. You don’t have to worry if your child doesn’t have a transition object. Each individual acts differently to regulate his emotions and anxieties. This sometimes also depends on how the parents understand the object. Some parents encourage its use and buy the doll in advance. Others will have a more distant relationship with these types of objects. In the case of some children, it may be one of the parents who acts as a transition object. In these types of situations, the child may seek that parent more, especially in times of transition.

pregnant woman and teddy

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Why a doll?

Not all children necessarily have a doll. But, for those who decide to own one, it has many functions. Although its main function is to reassure in moments of separation, the transition object has many other qualities:

  • calm down Y helps to endure the anguish of separation.
  • Provides a sense of security.
  • the doll console.
  • It helps to sleep.
  • Participate in the development of their autonomy.
  • The doll provides pleasure and contributes to the overall well-being of the child.

It is often used at bedtime to help the child fall asleep, but the doll also serves to comfort him in distressing situations. For example, if your child is afraid to go to the doctor, you can prepare him by imitating the auscultation with his doll.

The doll and the school

When a separation occurs is when the transition object acquires its full meaning. For his first day of kindergarten or preschool, his doll will be the ideal companion so that the child can get along that moment. With it, your child feels safe because of its physical presence: he likes to see it, touch it, crush it, but also smell it and recognize its scent.

At school, they are usually provided with a box to put the doll or a bag to store their favorite object. You must not be denied access. Thus, the child can choose to pick it up if he feels the need or leave it aside, to dedicate himself to other activities or to his companions. It is important to give the child the freedom to choose how to use it, according to their rhythm and their needs. Recall that the transition object is the representation of the attachment figure. Therefore, the presence of this object will reassure him and allow him to open to the outside world with complete peace of mind. By itself it will decide to separate from the object when it feels ready.

the school system

The introduction of personal objects in the school has not always been possible. We have witnessed a change in the last twenty years or so. At present, the strong incentive of the rapprochement between the school and the parents, the greater awareness of the reception conditions of young children and their psychological attention, mean that the dolls are initially accepted during the first school year, and they are even requested to facilitate the first days of school1. Except that, to respect the recommended way of learning, teachers are obliged to lead parents and children to abandon the doll. Indeed, schooling aims at autonomy, which requires knowing how to get by in a certain number of activities (dressing, putting on shoes, washing hands) but also adopting the rules of life in common. From the moment it enters the classroom, the doll is worked on to make it school acceptable in order to gradually withdraw it.

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back to school with doll

The paper of the parents

Psychologists discourage the use of the doll as an object of blackmail. To threaten to take away a child’s reassuring object would be to threaten to take away an extension of his attachment figure and himself. In the same way, the transitional object should not replace the tranquility provided by the adult, when he is present, since there is a risk of undermining the object’s own function.

Don’t worry if your child doesn’t want to part with his doll. There is no specific age to get rid of it and there are many adults who still have their transition object!two However, usually around the age of two the child already begins to leave his partner aside, and at three years old he hardly feels the need to have him. He is interested in new things and feels less vulnerable. Sometimes, after you’ve given it up, your child may feel the need to get it back. This usually happens when there is some change in his life or he is destabilized. In this case, it may be necessary to give more attention and understanding to help the child to overcome it.

If the transition object takes up too much space in your child’s life, you can also choose to accompany him in his separation from the doll. It is preferable to avoid taking it off suddenly. You can help him separate from him gradually, suggesting that you only use it at certain times, such as bedtime, for example. You can also encourage him, depending on his disposition and interests, to do other activities that calm him down and give him pleasure.

Does your child have a transition object? How do you foresee going back to school with his doll? Tell us in the comments!


1 Anon, Ressources maternity. The scolarisation des enfants de moins of 3 years. Une rentrée réussie.,, 2015

2 Mathilde Saiet, psychologist, Femmes et doudou. The object of endorsement,, 2008