In human childhood development, a transitional object is something, usually a physical object, which takes the place of the mother-child bond. Common examples include dolls, teddy bears or blankets.
When the young child begins to separate the ‘me’ from the ‘not-me’ and evolves from complete dependence to a stage of relative independence, it uses transitional objects.
Firstly; an infant sees himself and the mother as a whole. In this phase the mother ‘brings the world’ to the infant without delay which gives him a ‘moment of illusion’, a belief that his own wish creates the object of his desire which brings with it a sense of satisfaction. This stage is also called subjective omnipotence. Alongside the subjective omnipotence of a child lies an objective reality, which constitutes the child’s awareness of separateness between himself and desired objects. While the subjective omnipotence experience is one in which the child feels that his desires create satisfaction, the objective reality experience is one in which the child independently seeks out objects of desire.
Later on the child comes to realize that the mother is separate from him through which it appears that the child has lost something. The child realizes that he is dependent on others and thus he loses the idea that he is independent, a realization which creates a difficult period and brings frustration and anxiety with it. In the end it is impossible that the mother is always there to ‘bring the world’ to the child, a realization which has a powerful, somewhat painful, but constructive impact. Through fantasizing about the object of his wishes the child will find comfort. A transitional object can be used in this process.
The transitional object is often the first ‘not me’ possession that really belongs to the child. These could be real objects like a blanket or a teddy bear, but other objects, such as a melody or a word, can fulfil this role as well. This object represents all components of mothering, and it means that the child himself is able to create what he needs as well. It enables the child to have a fantasized bond with the mother when she gradually separates for increasingly longer periods of time. The transitional object is usually most important at the time of going to sleep and as a defence against anxiety.
In a later stage of the development the child no longer needs the transitional object. He is able to make a distinction between ‘me’ and ‘not-me’, and keeping inside and outside apart and yet interrelated. This development leads to the use of illusion, symbols and objects later on in life.