Teddy Bears and Teenagers

Jun 13

Dr. David Reuter

Teddy Bears and Teenagers

by Dr. David Reuter

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The audience was on its feet, applauding.

The cast from the high school’s musical was enjoying the curtain call, and the star had just danced back out on the stage.

During the show, the star was confident, talented, passionate, exuding charisma and enthusiasm.  One couldn’t help but think, “What did these parents do to create such a friendly, talented, successful teenager?”

As a pediatrician, we have the ability to look behind the scenes and understand the bigger picture.

The parent of this particular teenager shared a fascinating story. On the night before the performance started, this same teenager ventured back into her closet and found the teddy bear that she had slept with every night from age 6 months to 13 years. She had carefully packed the teddy bear away upon starting high school; however, on this critical night, she pulled the teddy bear out, closed her bedroom door (most of the way), and cuddled with her trusted friend.

When the parent shared this story with me, the true impact of a teddy bear or a “lovey,” came into focus.

When a child is 9 months old, new parents provide a teddy bear primarily to help a baby self-soothe or sleep through the night.

When a child is 5, this same teddy bear gets a last big hug in the morning before a toddler puts on a confident face and finds the courage to venture off to Kindergarten.

And when a child is 16, the same teddy bear who has provided unconditional support for years, is once again called upon to reinforce composure and confidence.

All child development proceeds along a continuum. It is obvious when we think of a child learning to walk and talk, but a child’s character is similarly nurtured as they tackle the different challenges that sequential years provide. The fact that self-soothing and composure are traits along a continuum, and the fact that both goals can be achieved by providing a constant source of support (parental first, and teddy bear to complement the adult) is a worthwhile perspective to keep in mind as we parent our children.

The beauty and the challenge of pediatrics is to prioritize and nurture the elements of child development that you can’t quantify.  One can measure height, weight, blood pressure, etc.  But how do you measure composure?

In meeting a child’s basic needs as an infant, they develop trust.

In setting limits as a toddler, they develop calm.

In providing books and toys, they develop curiosity and creativity.

In participating in a talent show, they develop courage.

In participating in a music recital, they develop resilience.

In participating in volunteer activities, they develop compassion.

And in cuddling with a teddy bear, they develop composure.

As parents, we have the privilege of laying the foundation for a child to not only stay healthy, but to reach their full potential. That a teddy bear can play a critical role in that process is fascinating.

Choose yours carefully (ideally washing-machine compatible).

Dr. David Reuter is a pediatrician in the Allegro Pediatrics Bothell location. 



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