Recent photos of Suri Cruise aged five sucking on a dummy caused headlines round the world. While many people oppose the use of them altogether, there is no denying what a blessing the dummy is for many parents. Apart from being easy to replace if they get lost or damaged, they’re a wonderful way to help bub learn to self settle.
But when should you ditch the dummy? And more importantly how can you do it in a way that minimizes stress for you and your little one?
When your baby is small they will only use the dummy to self-settle. At about four of five months this changes and sleep experts suggest this is a good time to ditch it.
However if you do leave it, then the suggestion is that it should be eliminated at around two years of age. For Natalie, mum of two year old James, this became a necessity. James was waking several times a night and becoming distressed when he couldn’t find his dummy. As a result Natalie had broken nights sleep on a regular basis as she had to go in and find his dummy in order for him to fall back asleep again.
In addition, a study by the University of Washington indicated that using a dummy for too long can increase the chances of children developing speech disorders. A key finding was children who used dummies or sucked their fingers after age three were three times more likely to have a speech disorder. It is very important if using a dummy, to strictly limit its use and it should never be used as a means of stopping your child from talking.
Long term dummy use can also affect the muscles of the mouth. This may cause the tongue to sit forward between the teeth and affect their position. This can potentially cause speech problems for your child.
When you make the decision to get rid of the dummy you need to set some guidelines about it.
Firstly it is useful to limit where and when your child can use the dummy. Ideally it should only be at bedtimes.
It’s easier to wean them off the dummy when they are able to communicate verbally with you. That way you can explain to them why they don’t need the dummy anymore. Explain to them what a big boy or girl they are and that they won’t need to use it from now on. A popular suggestion, is to make it less appealing to them by cutting a hole in the top of it. This reduces their ability to suck on it, making it less enjoyable for them. For many toddlers once the dummy is “broken” they will lose the urge to need it.
If possible, set up a “giving up” date together and choose a suitable benefactor. This may be the tooth fairy, Santa or the Easter bunny. Sometimes even your local dentist will have a drop off point for dummies. Get your child to help you wrap up the dummies to give away. This will help them understand what is happening.
It is important to remain firm once you have given the dummy away. Distraction tactics are always best at times like this and you may wish to find an alternative comforter for them like a soft blanket or toy that you can offer them as a replacement for it.
Be prepared to be patient and supportive during the initial transition but remain clear that the dummy is no longer available. Equally, a dummy is often a valuable source of comfort to a toddler so don’t do it at a time when other big events are occurring like moving house or having another baby.
Natalie endured three nights of a very grumpy toddler, before James accepted that his dummy wasn’t coming back. She made sure to go in and reassure him by patting and speaking quietly to him. That way he knew he wasn’t alone and it helped reduce his anxiety levels. Since then he has slept through the night.
While getting rid of the dummy requires careful consideration it is important to follow through on the process once you have decided to get rid of it.
However the most important thing is to only do it at a time that works for you and your little one. That will make the transition far less stressful for everyone involved.