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Was Linus Just Ahead of His Time?

WebMD Health News

May 9, 2000 -- During medical exams, blankets are just as comforting as mom for some 3-year-olds, according to a recent report in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

Doctors have to decide what's best for each situation, but 60% of all 3-year-olds are attached to their blankets, says study author Richard Passman, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

For the study, more than 60 mothers brought blankets along for a routine office visit, and rated their child's attachment to his or her blanket. Their 3-year-olds were then exposed to one of four conditions: mom present with no blanket, blanket present with no mom; both mom and blanket present; or no support. The researchers evaluated the children's distress levels by observing their behavior and by monitoring their blood pressure and heart rates.

Regardless of how attached they were to their blankets, kids without support were the most distressed. Children who were not particularly attached to their blankets showed significantly less stress with their mothers present than with their blankets. Blanket-attached kids responded equally well to having either the blankets or their mothers there, but were no more comforted by having both mothers and blankets along.

Passman tells WebMD that blankets may be a better source of support than anxious mothers, but doctors say this anxiety can be often eased. "Kids definitely pick up on maternal anxiety, but it can usually be resolved through a good working relationship" between doctor and parent, says Karen Duncan, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University in Atlanta.

"Besides, the exam room is an important learning place, and many moms resent being excluded," Duncan tells WebMD. "But if a mother has difficulty with immunizations or other procedures, I ask that another adult be present to reassure the child. I find that fathers often have a calming effect, especially with boys."

Duncan advises parents to help kids prepare for doctor's visits. "It's a good idea to tell your kids what to expect and that you'll be there to protect them," Duncan says. "Before an appointment, it helps to act out procedures on dolls and stuffed animals. Then I let the kids touch my instruments before we begin."

Some mothers add incentives to the mix. "I always plan something fun afterward, like a walk in the park or a hamburger," says Dorothy Johnson, 36, the mother of 3-year-old Aaron and a patient of Duncan's. "I talk to him the whole time and it calms me down too. When I can see things and ask questions, I feel much more relaxed."

Johnson adds that familiar objects help considerably. "When Aaron needed stitches, I grabbed my purse and ran. I didn't even know he brought his favorite truck until we got to the emergency room. It's like he knew he needed it to cope," Johnson says. "Now I always encourage him to bring it along."

Vital Information:

  • During medical exams, blankets are just as reassuring as their mothers' presence for some 3-year-olds.
  • Parents can reduce their own anxiety by building a rapport with the doctor and asking questions.
  • If parents have difficulty with medical procedures, they can arrange for another adult to be present.
  • Parents should prepare in advance by telling the child what to expect. They can also act out medical procedures on dolls or stuffed animals and allow the child to bring a favorite toy.


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