A recent news story in the Telegraph sparked controversy and outrage when it was reported that David and Victoria Beckham allow their four-year-old daughter Harper to continue to use a dummy. Whether right or wrong (and even expert opinions are divided on health and social concerns), parents who want to wean their children off dummies need to understand that it can be traumatic for the child.
Children who use dummies often come to regard them as a means of security, relaxation or consolation: hence the use of the common synonyms “comforter”, “pacifier” (American English) and “soother” (Canadian English). The sucking of a dummy often helps babies and children deal with situations about which they are uncertain or worried. However, there comes a time at which parents want to help their child discard the dummy for reasons of health and development …and even to avoid attendant social embarrassments, particularly if the child is about to start going to nursery, playgroup or school.
So how best to help?
- Look for patterns that might identify the reasons for your child requesting their dummy e.g. anxiety, bedtime and offer a distraction or diverting activity e.g. allow them a favourite toy or read to them by way of compensation.
- Keep children engaged in conversation or activities whilst waiting or out and about to avoid them being bored and reaching for the dummy
- Offer a “swap” for the dummy say in return for a much-wanted Christmas or birthday present, as a reward for good behaviour, or to please “the dummy fairy” (50p under the pillow!).
- Make time for your child, especially when a younger sibling comes into the family. Craving a dummy can be a sign of attention seeking. At times like these it is good to make an effort to dedicate special “grown up time” together when the baby is asleep; you could create a scrap book chronicling the baby’s development and the things you do , which will make the child feel included rather than excluded.
- Gradually wean the child away from using the dummy as a pacifier to encourage sleep for example so that the child does not associate the dummy as a precursor to any particular activity.
- Use star charts and rewards for ditching the dummy at certain times of the day …but make sure the reward is a healthy one.
The continued use of a dummy quickly becomes a hard-to-break habit: the longer the habit, the harder to break. We hope that these suggestions provide at least some food for thought and will be pleased to hear of your successes (please leave a comment below).