For some reason, my 2-year-old son Liam insists on piling blankets on top of himself. Throughout the day, he'll bring me a fuzzy throw blanket (usually his Toy Story or Spider-Man one, but any will do) and ask me to put it on him as he sits on the couch, the floor, or his bed. But before I can, he's already dragging more blankets over to me. By the time he's happy, I've draped three or four blankets over his back or his legs — leaving everyone else in the house cold. Then he'll proceed to play with toys on his lap, watch TV, or settle down for a nap. He even wants to bring at least two blankets with him when we go to the car!
It's not overly cold in the house. Getting enough sleep isn't an issue. Pants, long-sleeve shirts, and socks are firmly in place. But still, he does it day after day. As someone who has always been hot-natured and can't even sleep with socks on, I'm totally baffled by this behavior. At a loss, I wondered: Could this be a sign he struggles with anxiety like me or is it as common as any child with a comfort blanket?
Is It Normal for My Toddler to Pile Blankets on Himself?
Much like adults, toddlers will continue to repeat behavior that feels good or soothing to them. In this case, that's piling on blankets. "It's not abnormal behavior, nor is it abnormal to enjoy this type of pressure on the body," said Brittany Ferri, PhD, OTR/L, CPRP, founder and occupational therapist of Simplicity of Health. "In fact, most people (whether they have sensory issues, anxiety, ADHD, etc.) enjoy the feeling that can be obtained from piling a lot of blankets on top of themselves."
It could also be that toddlers enjoy the act of being tucked in by you. "Toddlers naturally desire as much of a parent's attention as possible," said Carla Marie Manly, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author. "The simple act of covering a child with a blanket (or three) is a loving interaction in a child's eyes. Much a like a puppy who will repeat a behavior that is attention-getting, toddlers enjoy activities that involve repetition."
However, if your child is covering themself in blankets because they're always cold, it's important to rule out any underlying medical concerns, such as thyroid issues, Dr. Manly told POPSUGAR.
Could Wanting to Be Covered in Blankets Be a Sign of Anxiety?
At this age, it could be a sign of anxiety, but it's still too early to know for sure. This blanket-piling behavior is more likely a sign of playfulness or even just the repetition of an activity that feels good. "This type of activity does provide a calming sensation to the body," said Dr. Ferri. "However, young children typically aren't savvy enough to recognize that they're calming down, or really recognize anything that it does for them other than they like it and want more of it."
Most likely, your toddler finds that the act of piling on blankets provides a proprioceptive input, which is a sensory input that gives the body a sense of where it is in the world. "This type of information helps our brain become more organized and self-aware, therefore, causing a calming effect on the body and mind," said Dr. Ferri.
If you are worried about anxiety, look for signs of irritability or emotional reactivity, said Dr. Manly. That's usually a more reliable indicator at this age. Since my son Liam only really asks for blankets when he is sleeping and playing, often hiding under them and giggling when we "find him," I'm not too concerned that this is a sign of anxiety for him.
Should I Let My Toddler Use a Weighted Blanket?
Although I haven't tried it yet, a weighted blanket might help my toddler feel calmer (and leave a few blankets for the rest of us). "Since he's still quite young and is used to the weight of several regular blankets, I would take it slow and start with quite low weights (less than 5 pounds)," said Dr. Ferri. "Perhaps the best route would be to get a weighted stuffed animal that he can place on his lap or shoulder to experiment with the new sensation and then work his way up to a weighted blanket if he enjoys that."
How Do I Know If Piling on Blankets is Part of a Larger Problem?
Although this toddler behavior on its own is not a sign of a bigger issue right now, there are some things parents can keep an eye out for that may point toward larger sensory processing issues: a sensitivity to loud noises or strong smells, an extreme dislike of certain types of touch or certain movements, a dislike of certain food textures, frequent motion sickness, trouble reading or looking at screens, or an avoidance of bright lights or colors. All or some of these together could signal a sensory processing disorder. However, if your toddler really just likes being piled in blankets, you're probably fine. "I definitely wouldn't be worried!" Dr. Ferri said. "It's a harmless behavior that should not interfere with his functioning or life in any way."
I'm going to take that advice, cuddle up with my silly boy, and simply enjoy his fun personality.