The trip to the mall had been a resounding success. We'd managed to find the perfect 11th-hour present for a baby shower, have a very pleasant lunch and even buy two pairs of shoes to replace ones that were now too small. All this, and my 2-year-old daughter was still charming and cooperative! I felt pretty pleased with myself as I loaded packages, stroller, balloon (a giveaway with the shoes) and daughter into the car. But as I buckled Austen's seatbelt, panic set in: Oh, no! Where's Butterscotch?

I was terror-stricken. What if he was lost? We raced back to our last stop - the shoe store. Luckily, the stuffed bear was right where my trusting little girl had placed him: tucked under a display of fancy footwear, unnoticed and unscathed. "See, Mommy! Here's my best friend," said Austen, hugging the tiny ball of yellow fluff close to her.The near-crisis ended happily, but the fact that Butterscotch is Austen's best friend is exactly why I was in such a state. Security, or attachment, objects - from stuffed animals to soft blankets, like the one Linus carries - are extremely important to the children who own them. And it's estimated that more than 60 percent of children in Western cultures have one.

"The major function of security objects is to soothe in times of stress," says Elyse Lehman, professor of psychology at George Mason University. They're also often referred to as transitional objects, because children use them as a bridge to the significant people in their lives when they're separated from them. It's no wonder some kids make a point of never being without theirs.

While it used to be believed that a kid who seemed dependent on a stuffed animal or a bit of cloth was destined for adult wimpdom, today the view is quite different. Security objects are seen as playing an important role in a child's development, since they can help them learn the tricky business of self-comforting.

Just what magical comforting powers can a blanket or bunny hold? One theory is that children gravitate to cuddly choices because they seek an experience that feels like being close to their mother.