How to ditch the dummy
Over time a child may come to associate their dummy with feelings of relaxation and security. They may not want to give it up despite their parents’ wishes. Ideally, a child should voluntarily give up their dummy when they feel ready. However, if that doesn’t seem likely then your child may need a little help.
Decide on your strategy: there are basically two ways to break the dummy habit – quickly or slowly. Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula or “right” way to do this. You have to make a decision based on what you think will be easiest for your child from your own knowledge of them. Some experts suggest that with a toddler aged less than two years it is better to go cold turkey as they are still too young to reason with, whereas with a child over two years taking the dummy away suddenly could cause much more emotional upset than it would with a younger child. However, with some children it may be the exact opposite, with older children being more easily able to give up the dummy suddenly and younger toddlers benefiting from a gradual transition.
Regardless of your child’s age and the strategy you decide to use there is one thing you absolutely must do for this to be successful….. BE CONSISTENT!!! The very worst thing you can do is to choose one way of ditching the dummy then cave in because you find the consequences too difficult to manage. Giving in to your child will only make the process 10 times harder the next time you try to get rid of the dummy. Not only that, but if your child cries and screams and you then give them what they want, you are teaching your child that all they need to do is throw a tantrum and they’ll get their way. This will make them more likely to have tantrums again in the future.
- Do not allow relatives or friends to make fun of your child for still using a dummy. Comments such as ‘Only babies have dummies’ or ‘You look silly with that thing in your mouth’ can make a sensitive children feel very inferior, causing them much stress and increasing their need for the dummy.
- Never attempt to get rid of the dummy just prior to or straight after the arrival of a new baby.
- Your child should be in good health and fully recovered from any illness before you attempt to wean them off the dummy.
- Eliminating the dummy should be avoided during times when major changes are about to take place, such as moving house, starting day-care or preschool, mother returning to work.
- Remember there might be times when your toddler needs their dummy more in order to feel safe and secure, such as when they aren’t with you.
- 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. Be sure to reassure your child by patting and speaking quietly to them, but remain clear that the dummy is no longer available.
Ideas for going cold turkey
On holidays: Forget to pack the dummy when you go on holiday. The facts that children are normally so excited about going on holiday and bedtimes are usually much later can help get over the first couple of days of the dummy being eliminated. Trips to the beach and extra treats of an ice cream for being such a good boy or girl for managing without their dummy will also help. When you get back home your child may have already forgotten all about their dummy. If not, discuss that they did fine without it on holiday and so they won’t need it anymore. Gather up all the dummies you have and throw them out together.
Make it a special ceremony: If possible, set a ‘giving up’ date together and choose a suitable benefactor such as the “Dummy Fairy” or Santa. Get your child to help you wrap up the dummies to give away and have a little ceremony involving the child. Be firm and gently remind them of their resolve not to use their dummy anymore. Try to distract them with other activities and help them find other ways to soothe and relax themselves. Like the concept of the Tooth Fairy, you might choose to replace the dummies they are giving away with some other toy or treat. This should be as a reward for being grown up rather than a bribe!
Give it away now: One mother persuaded her 3 year old girl to give all her dummies to the tiny babies in the hospital who don’t have a dummy. As a reward for being so thoughtful to these little babies she was allowed to choose a special new toy. Another idea is to get a friend to come around and explain that all the shops have sold out of dummies and her little baby really needs one. Making a nice gesture of wrapping all the dummies up in pretty paper to give to the baby as a present often makes an older child feel important about the kind gesture they are making.
Over the weekend: The weekend may be a good opportunity to ditch the dummy if you have more time and/or a partner that’s around to help keep your toddler very busy with lots of activities. Your child will probably be miserable for the first day that they’re denied the dummy, but getting them out of the house doing things that require lots of physical energy will help to minimise the whingeing, e.g. swimming, park, finger painting, gardening, water play.
It’s probably best not to attempt putting your child in their cot for their daytime nap. It’s unlikely they’ll settle without the dummy and you do not want to get them worked up into a state in the middle of the day. If you are out and about, they will hopefully have a nap in the buggy or car. That evening when you settle them to sleep you can try introducing a special new toy that they will hopefully use as a replacement comforter. Your child will probably be very difficult to settle and you will probably have to do ‘controlled crying’, checking them every five to ten minutes until they eventually get to sleep. The same approach should be used in the night if they wake up crying for the dummy. The worst is usually over within 2-3 nights.
Talk to them: For older children who are more able to communicate verbally with you, explain to them what a big boy or girl they are now and why they don’t need the dummy anymore. With their agreement, throw ALL their dummies out in the bin together. Pick a time when your child is relaxed and happy, and don’t nag, criticise or ridicule your child about them still using a dummy. Try to discuss with your child why they want it – are they bored, tired, distracted or hungry? Offer another favoured comfort item (such as a teddy or special blanket) to take to bed instead of the dummy.
Ideas for using a gradual transition
Limit the use: It is useful to limit where and when your child can use the dummy. Ideally it should only be at bedtimes. Reassure your child that you will not take their dummy away from them, but they must use it only in their bedroom. Gradually decreasing your child’s dependency on it will make it easier for you to persuade them to give it up completely.
If your child uses dummies very often, you might need to limit dummy use even more gradually. For example, don’t take a dummy when you go out to the shops. Next, start weaning them off having a dummy in their mouth during the day around the house, but still let them use a dummy for their day sleep and at night time. Then start putting them to sleep without a dummy during the day. Eventually the night time dummy will become less and less needed too.
“Broken” dummies: Make the dummy 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 for it. Here’s one mum’s experience with this: “One day, I cut a tiny hole in her dummy. She could tell it was different but didn’t mind as long as she still had her dummy! Every time she used it (about twice a day) I cut the hole a little bit bigger and just kept giving it to her like there was nothing wrong with it. About 4 days after we started there was nothing left for her to suck on. I still gave her the handle bit though. She looked at it and looked at me, very confused! I said ‘You can put that in the bin if you want”, and she did. That was the end of the dummy, no crying, nothing!”
Lose it: Whenever a dummy gets lost, don’t replace it. Say to your child “You’ve only got one/a few dummies left, we’d better not lose it/them!” Gradually there’ll be no more dummies left for your child to have. You might need to “help” the dummies to become lost but try not to place blame on anyone (yourself or your child) for losing them; say that it’s just one of those things that happen!
Dummy spot: Always place your child’s dummy in a particular place when they are not using it; don’t have them lying around all over the house so that your child can pick one up as soon as they want it. Make sure your child can still access their dummy if they want to. They will probably start seeking the dummy less and less simply because it isn’t around all the time. Eventually you can just throw the dummy away.
Use a reward system: Toddlers respond well to praise and encouragement. Think about using a reward system while your child is giving up their dummy. For children two years and older, you could set up a little chart with stars or stickers for a week or more. Compliment them often on their new behaviour and tell them how proud you are.
Making dummies safe
The following safety precautions should be observed:
- Serious and rapid tooth decay can result if dummies are dipped in sugary substances such as honey, jam, condensed milk, malt or vitamin C syrups.
- Sucking your child’s dummy can increase the risk of tooth decay by transferring bacteria from your mouth to the child’s.
- Dummies may be a source of infection if they are shared by other children or picked up from the floor. Follow good hygiene procedures when using dummies and check that dummies are in good condition and meet safety approval ratings.
- Check the dummy regularly to see if it’s worn or degraded. Babies can choke on any loose bits.
- Look for a firm plastic shield with air holes. Check the shield is more than 3 cm across so your baby can’t put the whole thing in their mouth.
- Tying the dummy around your baby’s hand, neck or cot is dangerous. Your child could choke on the string or chain if it’s long enough to catch around your child’s neck.
- Check the labelling to make sure you have the right size for your baby’s age. Most dummies are labelled for babies either under or over six months.
- Look for a one-piece model with a soft nipple. Dummies made in two pieces can break apart and become a choking hazard.