Bedtime Battles: Lost Lovey Edition
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?”
“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
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.)