Question: A 7-year-old cannot sleep without her favorite stuffed animal and only in her bed. What should parents do about this? Is this appropriate behavior?
Answer: Most kids have a special stuffed animal or a blanket, like Linus's blanket in the comic strip Peanuts, that they sleep with, that they carry around with them, that they rely on. These are very special toys for the child, and such a stuffed animal has special meaning for the child.
You can't take it away, you often can't wash it, you often can't fix it if it's torn. And some parents may think, "Oh my gosh, the child is dependent on this toy." In fact, they are using it.
We call these transitional objects. And young children who are making the transition from being dependent on their parents to being independent kids and then adolescents can use toys like this for a special purpose. It represents the parent and the parent's soothing and comforting when the parent isn't there.
And that's one of the reason why they cling to these stuffed animals when they're going to sleep, because they can use them to help the transition of being alone. They often will not just use it at bedtime but they'll take it with then on trips to grandparents' house. They have to learn how to leave it at home when going to school, but they're very, very important for the child.
And it's a normal part of behavior and don't get it wrong that it's something that the child is hooked on and you have to wean them from it like weaning from a bottle. The child will eventually give up the transitional object and move on, but it's a very useful part of normal development for children.