Interview on Stuffed Animals: Divorced Mother of Three
I asked a friend how her three children interacted with stuffed animals. Below are interview excerpts:
Me: What kinds of stuffed animals do your kids like?
Friend: They like all sorts.
Me: I am trying to find out which forms and materials are the most engaging/comfoting/enduring.
Friend: They seem to like floppy ones best.
Me: How large are they?
Friend: About 8 inches long seems to be a favorite size made out of something pretty soft, something that doesn’t pill or get nappy. I like machine washable stuff, of course.
Me: What shapes are they?
Friend: The kids all three have dogs that they have been attached to for an extended period of time.
Me: Are any of them kind of amorphous or are they all clearly specific dog breeds?
Friend: Just kind of dogs, not specific breeds of dogs and they lay flat, with their legs spread eagle, you know? They like the ones with long ears best. Henry also really likes panda stuffed animals. Lily likes her floppy elephant best right now, she says.
Me: What makes them comforting?
Friend: I think that they are soft and squishy and easy to cuddle.
Me: After your separation, did you notice any different behavior with the stuffed animals?
Friend: No, no real difference.
Me: On a scale from 1-10, 1 being not traumatized at all and 10 being total emotional wreck, how traumatized do you think they were?
Friend: Hmm… 6 for a while… no… 4. They’re used to it, he left all the time, anyway
Me: When that first started happening, was it higher?
Friend: Yeah, definitely
Me: Did you notice anything different in their interaction with stuffed animals then?
Friend: There was maybe more of a ritual about them. They took more “care” of them. Tthey would give them baths, tuck them in to bed, that sort of thing.
Me: Were they ever aggressive towards them?
Friend: Henry has thrown them a couple times, yes. Not so much the girls.
Me: What was the timing of that aggression?
Friend: It’s been off and on during the past year.
Me: Did it coincide with troubling events in his life? Maybe bullying?
Friend: He was actually more aggressive when the ex was around. I think he was trying to assert some sort of dominance.
Me: How did you react to the aggression?
Friend: Remove him for a quiet place where he can calm down and explain that agression isn’t acceptable.
Me: How does he react to punishment?
Friend: Sometimes he cries, sometimes he just pouts. There are minor tantrums when he’s super tired.
Me: Does punishment change his behavior towards the stuffed animals?
Friend: No, we practice being sweet with the animals. He gives them hugs and kisses. He throws them when he is frustrated.
Me: To what extent do you feel the stuffed animals are anthropomorphized? 1 = totally inanimate, 10 = totally alive
Key insights: This confirmed some of the findings on form in the post-it exercise on Monday. I am still unsure whether aggression towards stuffed animals is a healthy outlet, especially if they are anthropomorphized to the extent of being half-alive. Caretaking is a stress-triggered reaction that may have development potential.