Compensation and soft toys

One of Freud’s best-known theories is the principle of pleasure and reality - and his description of the painful transition between them. Inspired by the work of Freud - and by children’s preference for soft toy animals, bedtime toys and teddy bears - the American psychoanalyst D.W Winnicot (1971) developed his own theories about human cognitive fantasy and interpretative structures. Winnicot’s psychoanalytical theories are still the most significant accounts of a child’s basic need for toy ownership.

Freud’s theory is that, during the earliest days of life, the child experiences an incredibly intense fulfilment of need and feeling of pleasure after which the child accustoms himself to the realities of limitation and demand.

Winnicot pursues these ideas and points out that the child’s emotional loss - and compensations for that loss - is a basic principle. The child has to get accustomed to the fact that things and situations change. He has to learn to accept the schism between himself and parts of his secure and familiar environment.

To replace these losses (of which the most important is the absence of his mother), the child compensates with material items which Winnicot calls “transition objects” or sometimes “objects of desire”. The process of gradually getting used to loss, change and confrontation occurs through a pattern of recognition which develops in three phases:

  • The “I” phaseis the child’s losing his initial, infantile sensing and exploration in contact with his mother.
  • The “I am” phaseis the child’s recognising that schisms occur, that things and situations change, that some things are impossible and the angst and frustration which result from recognising these facts.
  • The “I am alone” phasewhich is (situation) angst associated with the many problems/conflicts involved in confrontation with new objects/situations and the child’s efforts to master these (mastering roles, situations, materials and implements).

The transition objects or compensations, a kind of illusion, can be anything from new adult contacts and playmates, new objects and toys and especially soft animal toys - but can also take the form of accepting the situation! According to Winnicot, the child’s illusion is a kind of “omnipotence” where, by adapting his needs (with the help of the transition objects), the child can re-experience moments or picture the pleasurable experiences and situations of the earliest days of his life - which would otherwise have disappeared for  ever.

In these moments, in the fantasy world of the mind’s eye, in the child’s dreams and stories, imagination and play with the world around him are confronted with realism and reality. Since the world around him includes the illusion of omnipotence (due to the sphere of the illusion), the child has the confidence and courage to cope with the challenges of meeting the reality of the world around him. We could say that the child is first confronted with the realities of the real world, compensates and interprets reality in his fantasy - and converts this into recognition.




Table of Contents