Security Blankets Can Substitute For Mom During A Child's Routine Medical Exam

August 17, 1997

Combination of Mom and Security Blanket is Worse Than One or the Other

CHICAGO -- Once again, less is more. New research presented at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 105th Annual Convention in Chicago shows that bringing along a child's security blanket, (or other "security item") may actually make routine medical exams go smoother when mom is unable to accompany the child.

Previous research on children and medical exams has found that interactive parents -- those who are anxious, fidgety or overprepare their children -- can be more disruptive to the exam than the exam itself. So Gabriel Ybarra, M.S., and psychologist Richard Passman, Ph.D., from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee along with pediatrician Carl Eisenberg, M.D., from the Milwaukee Medical Clinic observed 64 three-year olds during a routine medical exam to find out if security blankets could reduce stress during the exam as effectively as noninteractive mothers.

Based on ratings by their mothers, children were categorized as either attached or nonattached to a security blanket. Then each child was randomly assigned to one of the following exam situations: mother only, security blanket only, mother and security blanket or neither. An independent observer or a nurse rated each exam judging how upset the child was and noting behaviors such as crying, screaming and verbal resistance. Each child's heart rate and blood pressure was also noted as a measure of their distress.

"If the child was attached to a security blanket, then it served as a useful substitute for a mother and helped the child get through the exam with little distress," Dr. Passman says. But for these children there was no additional benefit to having the security blanket and mom during the exam. In fact, the combination of mom and security blanket was sometimes worse.

Security blankets neither enhanced nor diminished the soothing effects of mothers for children unattached to a security blanket. But, again, the combination can have detrimental effects. For this group of children, "overdoing preparations -- for instance, providing too many "attachment agents" can result in the child anticipating something unpleasant and backfire. Therefore, providing the child with one and no more attachment object is most effective," Dr. Passman concludes. And, he says, that could mean just mom or just the security blanket.

Presentation: "Security Blanket or Mother: Which Benefits Linus During Pediatric Examinations?" by Gabriel Ybarra, M.S., and Richard Passman, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Carl Eisenberg, M.D., Milwaukee Medical Clinic. Session 4135, 11:00 AM, August 18, 1997, Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, River Exhibition Hall (F-3).

(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

American Psychological Association

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