Debbie Lynn Rutkowski, 39, from New York, first painted her face onto a bead to help her son Nathan, five, who was nervous about starting nursery. By starting the day with a mini-me of his mum clipped on to his belt and tucked into his pocket, Nathan felt more at ease knowing she was there with him.
Within a year, Rutkowski had started Pocket People – and three years on she has made more than 500 for children dealing with separation anxiety.
Rutkowski believes the tiny tokens help to reassure and comfort people of all ages, noting that her son, now nine, used it up until he started school and then sporadically during periods of stress.
“I wanted to do something for Nathan and I did see a big difference in him, he would ask for it every day and it gave him comfort,” the mum shared.
“Nathan was extremely anxious about going to nursery – I made it so he could take me with him,” she said.
“He and I were quite connected. He is just a very sweet loving kid, so was very unsure of himself when going to school as he was a very young five-year-old.
“I wondered if I could make a tiny version of me, something discreet that he could hide if he was not comfortable showing it. When friends got wind of it, they were supportive and then I had strangers asking for friends of friends.”
It takes Rutkowski an hour to complete each figure, which she customises with skin tone, hair colour, and even extras like glasses and facial hair to look like the family member.
The single mum-of-two sells the creations for $8 (£6.30) online but maintains the main gift is knowing that it helps people.
Rutkowski gets a lot of feedback saying how much children love it and that it stems the tears when they start school.
“One lady bought one for my daughter who went to college, as she felt uncomfortable taking her favourite blanket,” she said. “They are not just for little kids but for adults, autistic children and others.
“They have been used in every way to help with divorce, anxiety, separation anxiety, separation from military parents and more.”
The mum hopes one day to introduce them into hospitals and schools. “Anyone can use it anyway they want – besides from eating it or feeding it to an animal!” she said. “One grandma told me that her grandchildren would lose their minds when they left for holiday, so she bought a set of herself and her husband for all of them and it helped a lot.
“It’s been great connecting with parents and knowing that something so small is making such a difference.”
Now nine-year-old Nathan is an advocate for the figures himself, and often explains how they helped him to strangers.
“I’m grateful it came full circle,” Rutkowski said. “I gave him a gift when he needed it then it continued to be a gift to him... it helped his self-esteem so much. It’s taught him not to be so nervous and to be able to talk to people.
“It gives him a sense of purpose being able to help others around him.”
To find out more or to buy one visit: www.mypocketpeople.com. The Pocket People can be shipped to the UK.