6 ways to ditch the dummy

So you gave your child a dummy. No judgement here. But there will come a time when you may need help to break the habit. Hannah Davison lays out some strategies. 

It’s a known fact that a select few people will hover around the fruit and vege section, waiting for someone like you to enter the supermarket. I term these people ‘the garden-variety gauntlet’. You may have encountered this phenomenon before. There you’ll be, trying to contain your children inside the trolley, shopping list between your teeth, wondering if you’ll all get out alive with the list items in tow. Suddenly, you hear a long intake of breath and have the dreaded realisation that you are about to receive lengthy unsolicited parenting advice. For those of us who choose to use a dummy, the chances of experiencing this phenomenon increase tenfold.

We are not getting into the dummy debate here, it goes without saying that there are strong feelings on both sides. However, despite divided opinion, it is always worth remembering that no one knows your children better than you do. We all parent differently, that is the diverse and beautiful world we live in. It is our prerogative how we choose to go about parenting, which deserves both acknowledgement and respect. Keep that in mind next time you are running the garden-variety gauntlet, and just remember: no one ever erected a statue to a critic.

Coming straight from the fire of ‘If I knew then, what I know now’, I’m happy to share that, prior to having children, I was strongly opposed to the idea of using a dummy. I was guilty of making sweeping statements beginning with “no child of mine...” but, oh, how the tables can turn! Having our first child was a baptism by fire. He was hungry, he was wakeful and he was very outspoken. This thing hadn’t come with instructions, and it took a while to write our own operating manual. I have vivid memories of sitting up in the middle of the night, rocking him hour on hour trying to get him to sleep after a feed. Alternatively, I’d hide out of sight after a feed, for fear he’d cotton on to my ploy. Then, when all was quiet, I’d sneak a peek in the hope of finding our boy in blissful slumber. Two bright button eyes would be staring right back at me. Sometimes he’d stay awake long enough to work up his appetite and we’d have to start the whole procedure all over again. After many weeks of resistance, we introduced a dummy. It worked extremely well.

This began a long and committed relationship between our son and his dummies. I fretted about the day that we’d have to sever the bond. How on earth would we tackle this volatile terrain? We wanted to pass the milestone with the minimum of fuss and trauma – for child and parent alike. As the time neared, I began researching and consulting with parents about different methods and their efficacy.

We settled on a strategy and decided upon a time we felt was right for him and right for us. In the end we went with the ‘dummy fairy’ method and, any time he asked where his dummies were, we could remind him what had happened and that now he had a beautiful red fire engine instead. He understood he had given them away but had also been rewarded for his sacrifice. Bribery and corruption may be alive and well, but it has been kindly pointed out to me that, when it comes to early childhood, this is actually termed as a ‘reward system’. Long live the euphemism.

Let’s get strategic
When it comes to breaking the habit, you have options. Here are some of the methods parents before us have used:
1 Breaking free
Whether it is by accident or intention, the ‘breaking free’ method is a practical way to end the habit. The dummy literally breaks and loses its functionality. This is done by either putting a little hole in the end of the dummy, cutting a little off each day, or by waiting for the dummy to break of its own accord. When children realise that the dummy no longer works, they seem to quickly lose interest in it and you then allow them to throw it away. When they’re gone, they're gone. The dummies, that is. Keep the children.

2 Out of sight, out of mind
You know, things can get lost all the time! In a staged approach, some parents put the dummy well out of sight any time it was left lying around. The children were only given it if they asked, and then only during sleep times. Children often forgot about it and the gaps between uses became longer until the dummy was forgotten completely. In another example; parents and child played hide and seek with the dummy. One day it was hidden so well, it was lost forever. Your child actually losing it herself is the ideal scenario, in which case you can discreetly dispose of it – if and when you ever find it again.

3 Outsourced solutions
Grandparents, family and friends can be very helpful at parenting crossroads. Your child having a short stay with someone while you go away for a few days (note the win-win here) can be an ideal opportunity to solve the dummy dilemma. Mum might forget to pack it, or the host might lose it. One grandfather with the gift of the gab explained that the dummies had all gone to dummy heaven. In particular, I enjoyed the story of a boy who went to stay with a friend. His friend hated dummies and threw them all away, telling him in no uncertain terms that he couldn’t have them back. Apparently he never asked for them again. His parents were delighted. Sometimes things are better when they come from other people.

4 Cold turkey
Just like ripping off a sticking plaster, it can be best not to muck around. Some parents gradually reduced access to the dummy in the lead up to employing the ‘cold turkey’ method, with the explanation that it was simply time to give the dummy up. An opportunity might naturally occur, such as a head cold preventing sucking, the dog eating the dummy (or at least taking the blame), or the arrival of a new sibling which might prompt the conversation that older brother or sister is big now and dummies are just for babies. Some children are given the opportunity to throw it away themselves, and some are offered a comforting alternative in exchange. In any event, the process is downplayed and kept as brief as possible.

5 Imaginary friends
Traditionally, the ‘dummy fairy’ has been the culprit. You can put the dummies in a special bag and hang them in a tree for overnight collection, or post them to her via a ‘fairy door’ attached to the wall or through the letterbox. One parent had her daughter tie the dummies to a helium balloon and then release it, floating skyward up to the dummy fairy. Usually the dummy fairy will send a letter as a prompt with the explanation that she needs to give the dummies to little babies who don’t have any. She then sends a gift in return to say thank you. In another version of this method, Christmas was approaching so Santa was brought in to assist. The children were told that he wouldn’t leave presents until they gave him their dummies. Dummies were put in the fire and the flames sent them up the chimney to Santa. This seasonal solution was apparently very effective. I’m sure the Easter Bunny would be equally open to performing a similar service.

6 Purchasing power
Dummies become currency in some toy shops offering a special 'payment option' (prearranged with parents who later cough up the actual coin) to help with this milestone. Ask your local toy retailer and they are likely to be more than happy to provide this service. Your child then comes in with her dummies and uses them to pay for a toy of her choosing. Suddenly the burden of giving up the dummy opens the door to other valuable lessons about finances and choices that will remain applicable throughout a child's entire life. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!   

Thanks is due to all of the parents who have tried and tested these methods and been forthcoming in sharing their stories. We managed to pass this daunting milestone with ease, and it was a far cry from the upsetting event we had feared. During my research, the overwhelming message coming through from parents was that ditching the dummy can be easier than you expect. It is amazing how often our children surprise us by adapting to whatever life throws at them and taking it in their tiny strides. Sometimes I wonder if we might learn more from them than they do from us.  

Hannah Davison recently returned to freelance writing after a small hiatus which saw the arrival of two young children and a dairy farm conversion. Hannah lives withher family in North Canterbury.



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