A few weeks ago, Iowa mom Jen Ellett Huegel posted a desperate plea on Facebook that instantly went viral and was shared by hundreds of thousands of social media users. Was she asking for money? Prayers? Sympathy? None of the above. She was asking fellow Facebook users to help her find Raffi — her 8-year-old son's stuffed giraffe and favorite lovey.
If you have ever known a kid who had an attachment to a particular comfort object — or lovey — you can understand Ellet Huegel's desperation and the desire of parents around the world to help.
It could be a blanket or a stuffed animal or even dad's old T-shirt. A lovey is any object that a child grows attached to and draws comfort from. For some kids, that means the lovey goes everywhere they go, whether it's to the bedroom for nap time or — as was the case with Raffi — on a road trip across the country.
Some parents worry when their child grows particularly attached to one toy or blankie. But rest assured, studies show that for some kids, lovies help reduce stress throughout the tumultuous toddler and early school-aged years.
In one such study, researchers brought 3-year-olds and their moms into their pediatrician's office for an exam. In some scenarios, researchers had the moms leave the room for a period of time during the exam, but allowed the kids to hold onto their lovies. In other scenarios, the moms stayed but the lovies were hidden for a portion of the exam. Stress levels were evaluated using blood pressure and heart rate. Researchers found that the toddlers were equally soothed by the presence of either their lovey or their mother.
That's not to say that a parent could be replaced with a toy. But it does mean that a child who grows attached to a lovey could be comforted by it in the middle of the night (instead of waking up mom and dad) or at another stressful time when mom or dad might have their hands full.
So don't worry if you have a kid who loves a lovey. In the vast majority of cases, kids give them up on their own when they're ready. Although studies also show that even in adulthood, many people hold special places in their hearts for their long forgotten comfort objects.
In a study published in the Journal of Cognition and Culture, researchers asked 20-year-olds to destroy photographs of various objects. Researchers found that the young adults gladly tore up pictures of their phones or wallets, but when shown pictures of their old lovies, they "experienced significant distress" at the thought of tearing those photos to pieces.
As for Raffi, he is still MIA, but the Huegel family is comforted by the fact that so many strangers have come together to help them in their search. You can follow their story by searching #FindRaffi on Twitter.