By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. On a recent car trip, my nearly 2-year-old son threw “blankie” out the window. He has cried for it. Demanded it. Blankie is his most trusted companion.

A roadside search was fruitless. I ordered a replacement. He saw it, dropped it on the floor and walked away as if to say, “I don’t think so.”

Every time we have put him down to sleep for the past week, he has fought us off. He has been going to sleep at least 90 minutes after his scheduled bedtime. He is tired, cranky, loving and clingy all at once.

Now I have located an identical blanket. We are moving and he needs something to soothe himself.

I plan to stain the replacement with chocolate milk and spaghetti sauce before washing it and putting it somewhere for my son to discover on his own.

With blankie his world seems complete. Without it, he is a different child. He went away a little boy and came home a baby. I want my little boy back.

A. A child uses a “blankie” as a kind of stand-in for parents. It represents love and care. By holding tight to the blankie (I call it a “lovey”), a child learns to manage and control himself.

A scrap of cloth or stuffed animal, no matter how tattered, can become a small child’s irreplaceable best friend, something to cuddle – or to throw out the window.

Why did he do that? Nobody knows. But the wonderful thing about a child’s blankie or teddy bear is that it can handle his full range of emotions – from love to hate.

A toddler, like the rest of us, may also have mixed feelings about the things or the people he most depends on.

Good luck with making the replacement like the original, with all the familiar stains and smells. Many parents learn too late that they should never wash a child’s lovey. It’s not the same when it comes out of the washing machine.

If he rejects the replacement, offer him the chance to choose his own. Say, “I’m sorry you lost it and I wish I could help you, but you won’t let me. Now you’ll have to help yourself. You choose your new blankie.”

A child in the midst of a transition like a move deserves extra attention and comforting. As parents, we can’t always protect our children from misfortunes. But we can prepare them to cope with challenges. For a toddler, everyday frustrations and disappointments can become opportunities to begin to learn to live with what we can’t change.

Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Dr. Brazelton heads the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is Director of Strategy, Planning and Program Development at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.