The dummy-ditching mistake many parents make

Posted in Learning and Development.

Last week the dummy fairy came and this is what happened …

Ditching the dummy

For months I’d been building up to getting rid of my son’s dummy. I repeatedly talked about it. I emphasized that he couldn’t go into the ‘big boy room’ at school with it. And I told him that when he turned three it was time to say goodbye.

His birthday came and went in December. The dummy remained. In fact, he was sucking on it more than ever.

Rather than being sucked at night time only, it had become a constant fixture. When he was upset, he’d reach for his dummy, when he was playing, he’d reach for his dummy and he’d even started taking it with him in the pool.

I lost count of the number of times I said to him ‘take your dummy out when you’re talking’.

Read more about getting rid of the dummy:

‘I kept moving the goalposts’

As his dummy attachment grew, so too did my ‘fear’ of getting rid of it. Even putting it away on the shelf was enough to send him into a spin, so how on earth was I going to remove it for good?

I kept moving the goalposts for throwing it out.

I let him keep it for his birthday, our holiday away and Christmas. I tried once to remove it but was met with so much resistance that it was immediately returned.

I finally admitted that I needed to bite the bullet. I had visions of him being five and taking it to school. Oh, the shame for him and me.

So, the first day back at preschool came and, as we prepared for the day, I prepared myself for the hell that was to come.

The dummy fairy

I told my son again that he needed to leave his dummy behind. The dummy fairies would come, and it would go to babies instead. He nodded his agreement, kissed it goodbye and didn’t look back. So far, so good

During the day I put a present in place of the dummy. I toyed with throwing it out, but I wasn’t feeling that brave. I hid it on a high shelf instead, completely out of sight.

Pick up came and my son arrived home. I made a fuss about the gift and, as he opened the little train and ate the chocolate, he acknowledged that the fairies had come. The dummy was gone. He toddled off to play.

But we weren’t out of the woods yet. When his train fell off its tracks, I feared that he would too. I held my breath, but no dummy request was made.

Toddler / baby with dummy

Was it really that easy?

Bedtime came and I anticipated the worst. But, after his usual story and kiss goodnight, he rolled over and went to sleep. Could it really have been that easy?

The answer is yes.

We’re now into week two with no dummy and there’ve been no requests at all. He accepts that it’s gone, never to return. And just like that, it’s over.

My fear was unfounded, and I wonder if it was even necessary at all. I wonder if we cling onto things for longer because we’re so attached to them, more so than our child.

Hindsight’s a wonderful thing 

Registered psychologist, Rachel Tomlinson, advised me this is often the case.

“As a parent you want your child to be happy and emotionally comfortable so it’s easy to become just as reliant on these ‘comfort items’ as your child is,” she says.

“It’s normal to experience fear about the impact of removing the item that helps your child to regulate their emotions. Parents don’t want to see their child upset, and so it’s easy to keep using the object for comfort if you know it’s going to work.”

Despite this, Tomlinson says that children are resilient and resourceful and we, as parents, can sometimes underestimate this.

She notes that a lot of the time, dependent on the individual child and circumstances, removal of a comfort item is far less stressful for the child than the adult.

“If a parent can work to their child’s strengths and recognise their resilience and ability to self soothe, this translates to understanding that your child has learnt how to comfort themselves when distressed,” she says.

“Removing a particular comfort item can just be about teaching your child other ways they can self soothe and manage big feelings.”

If I knew it was going to be as easy as it was, then I definitely would have removed the dummy earlier.

But hindsight’s a wonderful thing and when you only have tomorrow to deal with, it’s about building up to the task today. 

Besides, it’s funny to think that I wanted and encouraged my son to spit the dummy. That’s something I never thought I’d say!


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