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Bedtime Battles: Lost Lovey Edition

Bedtime Battles: Lost Lovey Edition

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I think you have likely experienced this problem before, and I am hoping you could share some insight.

In the past couple months my son has become very attached to one particular stuffed animal. It goes most places with him. Which means, inevitably, that he forgets about it sometimes, and then at bedtime it becomes a frantic, tear-filled search for a goddamn stuffed bird.

My feeling is that this is not my bird, not my problem. If you want to cart your stuffed animal all over creation, you need to take some responsibility and keep track of it. I’m not gonna look for it. This stance often ends in tears (by my son) because he can’t find his stuffed bird. Quite frankly, he sucks at looking.

He is five. Is keeping track of his own stuffed animal too much to ask?

Not Bloon and Bubby, But Almost as Bad

Here’s the thing: All five year olds suck at looking. And so do plenty of six, seven and eight year olds. My oldest turns nine soon and you know, I’m STILL not holding out much hope that this will be the year that we can add “IS GOOD AT LOOKING FOR THINGS” to the milestone list.

“Where are your shoes?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, go look for them!”

/10 minutes of aimless wandering and inexplicably staring at the ceiling, just in case his shoes are dangling from a light fixture

“I still dunno.”

/please note that shoes are out in full view in the middle of the foyer this whole time, less than five feet from our dedicated shoe rack

/head explodes

So while I sympathize with your desire to take a hard line stance on teaching responsibility here, this might be a time to pick your battles, at least when it happens around bedtime. The more upset and panicked he gets, the worse his ability to really “look” will become — he’ll wander around in circles, revisit the same possible hiding spot over and over again, and generally be even more useless and unable to problem solve.

And it is a form of genuine panic — five years old is old enough to understand and comprehend the potential for a real, permanent loss, and these stuffed animal/lovey attachments come with their own form of separation anxiety. All these swirling emotions crowd out his ability to think critically about where his toy is, to remember where he last had it and/or to realize that HEY, BRAINIAC, WHY DON’T YOU TRY LOOKING UNDER OR BEHIND THINGS, LIKE OH MY GOD THERE’S A BLOON-AND-BUBBY-SHAPED LUMP UNDER THAT BLANKET RIGHT THERE THAT YOU’VE WALKED BY SEVENTEEN TIMES ALREADY.

For the nightly bedtime meltdown, try this: About 15 minutes before you’d typically start the bedtime process, start the “looking for birdie” process. Try to keep your patience/temper in check and model what it actually means to “look.” We retrace our steps, we look under, over, around and through. You look in your bedroom, I’ll look in the kitchen. You can set a time limit on how long the looking can go on — especially on days when you suspect the bird might have been left behind at a friend’s house and cannot be retrieved until the next day.

During the day, I do look at the toys as MOSTLY Ezra’s responsibility…but still kind of a shared responsibility, for our collective sanity. When Bloon and Bubby come out with us, I do try to ask Ezra if he’s got them prior to transitioning locations. I encourage him to leave them behind in a safe place as often as possible, or suggest that he bring his backpack or doll stroller along. Having a backpack or a little stroller with him seems to help keep this babies’ presence in the forefront of his mind, rather than an afterthought.

Playing hide and seek with your son can also really help with the whole “looking for things in creative/not obvious places” skill. You can also practice playing the game with his stuffed bird. You “hide” the toy in a place he’s likely to leave it behind and send him off to hunt for it, in a more fun/relaxed situation. Get him a special bag or something to keep the bird in during any location change/transition, or I don’t know, some kind of leash or clip or way to the toy to his clothing. Read the Knuffle Bunny books as both a cautionary tale about taking care of your toys and what can happen if you take them out of the house. (Though note that the parents in those books go above and beyond to reunite their child with her lost toy, which might make you feel a bit Grinchy because HELL NO, I’m not racing across town at 2 in the morning to swap a hunk of polyester with another parent, are you kidding me? GO BACK TO BED.)

Published September 25, 2014. Last updated July 16, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Books

    September 25, 2014 at 10:18 am

    From the time an attachment formed, we’ve never let any attachment objects leave the house except for road trips. Little blanket square lovie belongs in bed, chicky can come downstairs but never needs to go out on the town (except few special occasions like super fun blood draws). A dedicated blanket went to daycare for naps. Those have been the rules for as long as he can remember so it’s never an issue. Number one advice for new parents-will save so much hassle down the road as you watch friends’ and family’s exasperated facebook posts about having left baby at church or worse, lost entirely. Since it’s too late for that, I would suggest making a new rule. Now that he’s five, birdie gets tucked into bed each morning (make it a little ritual) to wait for him to come back at night. He’s welcome to visit during the day, but birdie stays in his room and is always there at bedtime. Now that my little guy is six, his attachment is waning and some days chicky doesn’t even make it downstairs.

    • Nancy

      September 25, 2014 at 11:52 am

      Same here. Ted never leaves the house, unless we’re going away for the night or on vacation. And when we’re on vacation, I’m always double checking with kiddo that he knows where he is (which is generally in his arms or in his backpack with his other toys.) He has other stuffies and toys that he likes a lot, but is not so very attached to that are allowed to go to the store, school, etc. But not Ted.

      I will note that Ted has gotten lost in the house (far more frequently than I’d like) and instead of making Kiddo search on his own (which like Amalah said, causes a blind panic and makes him a worse searcher) we hunt together, talking about where we last had him, what we’d done with him during that day, etc. It helps a lot.

      I know it sucks to be the responsible one, but your child is FIVE, which is still really such an irresponsible age where they’re still learning the finer points of what consequences mean. I feel like maybe a little more parental compassion is needed.

    • Brittany

      September 25, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      My son is only a year and a half, but I am already so glad that we instituted a lovey-stays-in-the-crib rule as soon as he latched on to his taggie blanket at about 6 months old. It saves us so much trouble! He knows in the mornings and after nap that he has to put his lovey back in the crib. He’ll usually say goodbye to it and then forget until he’s tired again. On the rare occasion that he gets super upset and needs it for comfort, I let him hold it in his bedroom until he calms down. And the few times we’ve relaxed the rule (vacations, holidays at relatives’ houses) I can see what a pain it would be if he was carrying this thing around everywhere! I like the idea of tucking the bird into bed every morning. It might be tough for him at first, but will save you a lot of frustration looking for it every night.

    • JenVegas

      September 25, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      This, yes. When we moved to a new city my son (2.5) was having anxiety about his new daycare and all of the other things so he schlepped his Hop Hop Bunny along with him all over the place. It took about 6 months before we were able to scale that back to “Well, put Hop Hop Bunny in your backpack, in case you need him.” And eventually, without us ever really noticing Hop Hop started gathering dust in there because he never took him out. And now Hop Hop stays in bed unless we travel overnight somewhere. In which case Hop Hop, Daddy Dawg and Baby Blue Butt Dog come along for the sleepover. Oh lord I just realized that maybe I need a dog whisperer more than I need a babysitter.

  • Lynn

    September 25, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Just so you know….. Boys are still not good at finding things at 12. I was really hoping the change would come on his last birthday.
    Come to think of it, I’m so sorry to say this, but even my husband is terrible at finding things. Maybe its a boy thing? Maybe its just my house? Maybe its because I have a house full of boys and they all know that mom is the MASTER FINDER OF ALL THINGS LOST. Idk. Hopefully it works out better for you. (-:

    • Paula

      October 1, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Same here!! But I am starting to suspect that crowning me the MASTER FINDER OF ALL THINGS LOST is just a way to stroke my ego so that I take extra-pride in finding stuff in the darndest of places and never giving up the search. They have pulled the ultimate mind-trick on me!! =)

  • MR

    September 25, 2014 at 11:11 am

    We do something similar to Books, but we will let them bring them out of the house, but lovies stay in the car. So, you want to take your blankie to the store? Sure, but it stays in the car. Want to take it to the park. Sure, but it stays in the car. This way, blankie stays clean, and the child still gets to cuddle with it. For the few times we let them bring their item into somewhere else, it is OUR responsibility to help them remember to get it so they have it that night. Because, after all, we benefit from them having it too. We have had plenty of “I can’t find it!!” moments. But, it was always in the house and they couldn’t remember where they left it (stuffed into the train riding toy, for example). We always go around with them to look, and suggest places they should look. If they still can’t find it, we look again after we have them tucked in and tell them we will bring it when we find it, so they don’t think it is lost forever. We have been doing this for a few years, and our 6 year old is now to the point where she is really pretty good about remembering her stuff and where she left it. But, we also just don’t let her bring valuable (like blankie) stuff places she is likely to forget it. She brought it to school once last year and lost it. It was awful. We didn’t let her do it again, and she understood that. But, yeah, 5 is not old enough to be entirely responsible for keeping track of and finding their own stuff. We went to the lost and found SOOOOO many times last year. Now, at least she knows what to do if she dose lose stuff. But, just think about it. I misplace stuff all the time as an adult. Nobody is always going to remember everything. Teaching them how to remain calm to look for things is a lesson, and how to improvise if you still can’t find it is another.

  • Rachel

    September 25, 2014 at 11:22 am

    My husband is 31 and not good at looking for things.

    Lovies stay in bed at all times. No looking at bedtime because they are right there waiting for you to come back.

    • Cheryl S.

      September 26, 2014 at 9:37 am

      This is exactly what I was thinking! Have you ever asked a man to find something in the refrigerator?? Since he’s previously been able to take Birdie with him, start with Birdie stays in the car. Then, when he’s used to that, move to birdie stays in the house. And you’re still going to have to look for him. To me, finding the lovie was worth it so my daughter wiould GO.TO.SLEEP!

  • Operation Pink Heering

    September 25, 2014 at 11:47 am

    My three year old daughter had this problem with her pacifiers (yes, plural). She wanted to take them around all day and was sad without them (she uses them much like a lovey, rubbing them rather than always having them in her mouth) but it was a CONSTANT “oh no where is New Paci” or “I can’t find Baseball Paci!” at bedtime. I tried a similar stance of “you took them around, if you can’t find them now it’s your problem,” but it led to so many tears that I finally changed to: since these Bed Pacis are so special to you, we need to leave them in the bed so that they can never be lost. It has been SO much less stressful for me, and for her. It actually helps shuffle her up to bed because she is excited to see her pacifiers. Possibly something to try?

  • Kirsten

    September 25, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Um.  For some of us 34 is still not good at looking for things. 


    Such a frequent conversation in my home growing up.  “MOM! Where are my shoes?”  “I don’t know, I don’t wear them for you!”  

    That said, I’m SO incredibly in favor of the “Teach him to look for toys as a skill” methods Amy described above.  Playing hide and seek with Birdie, practicing “looking for something” as a regular skill.  I like to think maybe that would’ve helped and prevented me from STILL having my “Where are my shoes panic?” about three mornings a week.  

  • Hannah

    September 25, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    My daughter hardly ever took Sawyer out of the house, but he would still get lost – one time, she stuffed him (WHY??) between the tv and the tv stand, and it took 4 hours to find him.  So, we got one of those key-finder fobs and tied it around his neck tight enough that it wouldn’t come off.  If we lost him, we just wandered around the house together with the transmitter until we heard him beeping.  This saved A LOT of trouble.  (Be aware, though, that if your kiddo is rough on the lovey and you do this, the back of the keyfinder can come off, and it’s got one of those dangerous disc-batteries in it.  We solved this by supergluing it on – you can’t then replace the battery, but your kid’s not in danger, so we called it a win.)

  • Stefanie

    September 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    When both of my kids became attached to an object, we went and bought more. First child had 13 lovies at one point (excessive, I know, but it was in response to not being able to find it at bedtime). No idea how many she has now, but there is always at least one in her bed, usually more, several in the wash, and several in our cars.

  • Melissa

    September 25, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Our 7 year old’s lovie is my old lovie Ted. So old that Ted wears preemie sleepers to save what fur/stitching he has left. Because Ted is in his fragile years, we had a rule from the beginning that Ted stays home and we have a backup, Teddy who goes for the adventures. Teddy comes home and tells Ted all about the fun times and Ted is the one who gets the love at night. There isn’t as much of an attachment to Teddy, it’s like our son knows that any of his other stuffed animals could serve the same purpose so I don’t worry about losing Teddy. And Ted stays safely at home and in bed or at the most, on the couch.

    • Kat

      September 26, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      This is so sweet, Melissa! I love that Teddy comes home to tell Ted about the adventures 🙂

  • Stephanie

    September 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    My daughter can bring her blankie in the car with her, but that’s it. Same goes with stuffed animals she’s attached to. She sometimes protests, but we don’t want a situation where it’s simply left behind.

  • L

    September 25, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    When my twins insisted that Chewy and Froggy come with us, I tied a ribbon around their lovelys and then tied the ribbon around their wrist/ their clothes/the stroller.  That way, they could still snuggle their friend, but if either fell, (and they always fell) Froggy and Chewie made it home. (We did A LOT of walking in the stroller back then) After losing one at the store for 48 painful hours, they stay in the car ONLY when we go somewhere, unless it’s vacation/plane trip. Then it’s in their backpack and I ask them 80000000 times where their friends are. Good Luck! 

  • Susan:)

    September 25, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    My six year old niece has been super attached to her Puppy since she was about six months old. Once she was walking, Puppy frequently got lost because she’d hide him somewhere and then forget where. Soo much bedtime drama when the whole household had to go on a search!  We frequently found him in a cupboard or drawer. She never remembered where she put him, and was horrible at looking. We did eventually make a rule, when she was about two, that Puppy had to stay in her bed all the time so he wouldn’t get lost. We also did look for doubles, but could never find one. Anyway, as she got older, the stay in bed rule has relaxed to Puppy must stay in the house, except for overnight trips. She’s better at not losing him these days, but still doesn’t have good looking for things skills!  I still have to remind her that looking means moving things!

  • Samantha

    September 26, 2014 at 8:01 am

    A little off topic, but I used to use the word ‘search’ to cue better looking skills. Because my oldest had learned to “look with your eyes, don’t touch” at museums, etc we started talking about how you “search with your hands.” This helped him remember to move things, look under and behind…to be fair though, my husband asks me where he left his belt, wallet, wrench, whatever all the time too.

  • Mel

    September 26, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Things my partner, a GROWN MAN, has lost and never recovered in the 2+ years we’ve been together: 

    Shoes, glasses, sleep masks, important paperwork, car registration, and a million small items like chapstick, pens, etc. 

    Please, for the sake of his future partner, take the time to TEACH your child how to place important items in a safe place and SEARCH for them if they are lost. 

    This is a learned skill. How will he learn if he isn’t taught? You’re his mom- teach him so you won’t still be doing this in one or three or six or ten years!

  • Angela

    September 26, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    Yes to what everyone else has already said: Lovie doesn’t leave the house or stays in the car and it’s just not really developmentally appropriate to expect young kids to keep track of all their things. It’s just not how their minds work.

    When we need to look for a lovie at bedtime then I will let my kids look with me for about 5 minutes. Then I tell them that we need to go to bed, but that while I’m straightening up if I find Teddy then I’ll slip him into his bed. I normally straighten things up and almost always find the lost item so they go to sleep with the comfort that they’ll most likely wake up reunited with their lovie. Actually it sometimes makes bedtime go smoother because where they usually want me to stay and cuddle longer they’ll be kicking me out of the room so that I can go search.

  • Lea

    September 26, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    I use the phrase “look with your woman eyes” with my husband.

  • Kelly

    October 17, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    I was a pretty terrible searcher at that age…like, the last kid without any eggs in the basket at the local egg hunt. Turns out I’m also nearsighted, and needed glasses…