Weaning children off dummies: things to consider
Children can become very attached to their dummies. Touching and sucking on a dummy can comfort and soothe them. And dummies can also help young children manage everyday stress and soothe themselves when you’re not around.
But there are disadvantages to dummies. For example, your child might be waking a lot at night when they lose the dummy. Also, dummy use, especially beyond about 4-5 years of age, increases the chance of dental problems later in childhood – for example, the problem of children’s teeth growing out of line. And dummy use is linked to slightly higher rates of middle ear infections.
Sometimes children decide to give up their dummies by themselves. Most often, parents are the ones who decide it’s time to give it up. As a parent, you know your child best. You’re the best one to decide whether your child is ready to move on from the dummy. Try not to feel rushed or pressured by the reactions of family, other children or even strangers.
Your child probably won’t find it easy to part with the dummy. So if you feel it’s time for the dummy to go, a gradual approach is the fairest and easiest.
Tips for weaning off dummies
Here are things you can do before you begin to reduce your child’s dummy use:
- Remind yourself that sucking a dummy never becomes a lifelong habit. Many children will stop using a dummy by themselves.
- Choose your timing. A period of change or stress for you or your child might not be a good time to give up.
- Talk to your child about giving up the dummy, if your child is old enough to understand.
When you and your child are ready to begin, try these ideas:
- Try using the dummy for comforting less often during the day. You can do this by putting the dummy away in a special spot and then getting it out only as part of the sleep routine. This will help things go faster.
- Limit dummy use to certain times and places – for example, the car or cot. This gives your child a chance to get used to being without the dummy.
- Gradually use the dummy less and less when re-settling your child during the night. For example, give the dummy to your child every second time they cry in the night on the second day, then every third time on the third day, and so on.
Once your child is coping for longer periods without the dummy, set a time and date – then take away the dummy. These ideas might help:
- Mark the occasion of becoming dummy free with a celebration or special reward.
- Try not to turn back. No matter how well you’ve prepared your child for this change, expect some discomfort and protest.
It might be easier and more fun to help your child give the dummy away. For example, you could suggest hanging it on the tree for fairies to give to other babies who don’t have a dummy. Or putting it in the bird feeder for the baby birds. This way, if your child asks for it back, you can tell your child you don’t have it anymore. Just remember to throw away all the dummies. You don’t want your child to find the dummy you said you were giving to the baby birds!