Soft, warm and comforting – almost every newborn child in the west gets a teddy or a stuffed elephant or some other kind of cuddly toy. Such toys often become treasured companions, comfort items and security totems. Over the years they can become bedraggled, have the stuffing knocked out of them and the eyes pullet off and yet remain loved by their owners beyond all measure. In fact the loss of such a toy or even the trauma of putting the wretched and rather smelly thing in the washing machine lest it somehow manage to incubate a previously unknown plague, has been the cause of many a childish melt down or even, dare I say it, a 100 mile return trip to retrieve the lost one from a seaside bed and breakfast hotel.

Psychologists call teddies and blankies and such like, ‘transitional objects’ and they have special value as a way by which a child is able to make the very necessary shift from the earliest relationship with the primary caregiver as the centre of the child’s universe to making genuine object-relationships. Learning about non trivial things that are both not-self and not mother. These are important bridging materials and provide security, comfort and the ability to start to imagine what it is like to be something and someone else.

So what are we looking for when it comes to a soft toy and what should we be avoiding?

The absolute priority is always safety so make sure the toy is suitable for the age range, the stuffing is safe, and the eyes are properly affixed, then think about the age of the child and to my mind the scale. A cuddly toy is primarily for cuddling so it needs to be soft, comforting and most of all cuddlable. There is little point in having huge teddy bears, giraffes or lions that are bigger than a small child (or even small adult on some occasions – take a look at the epic but not necessarily suitable toy at the bottom of this pile).

That said the really big stuffed toys do make great statement pieces, decorations and in some cases could happily substitute for an indoor climbing frame. I have never had enough space to accommodate one of these epic creatures but if you have and they appeal then go for it. Be warned though some children find them simply overwhelming and might even be frightened by them if you are not careful, so as usual make sure you match the present to the child

For the baby or smaller child I like these half toy / half blankie creations that seem quite new to me. At least I don’t remember them being available when my children were small but I just bought one (actually two) for my newborn grandchild. So cute! They are lovely and soft and clutchable by even the smallest hands and at prices that won’t break the bank. But if your child makes it a genuine comfort object I recommend making sure it is washable and possibly even buying two and alternating them so that if the inevitable happens and it gets lost on a train you can miraculously produce another without delay. This will save hours of misery and frustration or sleepless nights as a bereft child refuses to settle without Mr Hippo or the Little Blue Bunny or whatever it is in your household that makes toddler bed time possible.

If you want genuine traditional style stuffed animals then how about a bear, or an elephant, a dinosaur or even an alien. If the budget is up to it what about one with integral music capacity or even the ability to tell a story? It seems there is so much to choose from. I can see the appeal of the more technologically advanced toy, and the ability to record a parent’s voice reading a story is delightful but I do wonder about silly things like a beaker of juice or getting dropped in the bath being an absolute disaster. That said we had a singing bunny creature that lasted more than five years before its capacity to make music was terminated by my son in a manner I am not certain of to this day, so you never know.

These look good, some nice functions but still with that important cuddle quality I think is essential.

Best Buy Bears

The cream of the teddy bear crop has always been the Seiff – with the articulated limbs and the button in the ear it is an icon of all that is bearness. Often thought of as heirloom pieces that people have for life these bears ooze quality, but of course that comes at a price. Not pocket change but possibly an investment and I have heard that some bears from yesteryear now change hands for a pretty penny indeed.

For me this one is the classic.

I also have a fondness for the Paddington bear, complete with sou’wester, mackintosh and that cute lovely smile. If you lean in that direction make sure you also get the book, a DVD of the old stop motion animation series from my own childhood or possibly one of the excellent new version – to make sure your child is well versed in the life and philosophy of Paddington. I also know a Paddington child who has the same coat and wellington boots as her cuddly companion and it is utterly adorable.

If you are not a Paddington person then perhaps that other icon of the book and screen is more to your taste. Let’s hear it for Winnie the Pooh. (and his adorable companions)

Other Cuddlies

While bears are the most traditional of cuddly creature there are other animals to consider. Real life animals that in some cases take the place of pets that are not allowed, because of landlord rules, lease conditions, allergies or other equally valid considerations.

The soft stuff cat toy is worth a try.

The plush pooch or adorable cuddly puppy can melt your heart and you don’t have to take it for walks in the rain or pick up the poop like a responsible pet owner.

Exotic animals, lions, tigers, sea-lions and the like can be found in the toy store and at a size to delight rather than frighten. I know one child with a stuffed chicken and another with a soft squish velvet frog that have been bed-time companions for years

Of course there is always the extinct dinosaur, the extraterrestrial alien or the made up creature from their favourite children’s TV show.