How to give up the dummy (for dummies)December 5, 2017
I was one of those parents who would never give my baby a dummy. This was before I had children, of course.
But by week two of my first daughter’s life I was off to the pharmacy, willing to try anything that would stop the mewling, stretch out her feeding and give my nipples a break. Pacifier, indeed.
And so began our love affair.
In order for Phoebe to sleep, when all else failed, we needed three things: the car, the Woman’s Hour podcast, and a dummy. And so I’d drive, up and down, cursing traffic lights and speed bumps until she dropped off.
Upon leaving the house I would double, triple check that I had one about my person, or in the changing bag. If I went somewhere and realised we were dummy-less, I’d panic. Cold sweat. Eyes scanning the horizon for the nearest Avent salesman. Disaster.
The only thing worse than leaving home without one? The dull sound of plastic on plastic, as one fell from her hand onto the floor of the car, JUST out of reach, no matter how Cirque du Soleil I got with my contorting.
Of course she had favourites. And woke up in the night asking for specific models. Tantrums over not wanting the purple one. Throwing dummies to the floor when having a ‘moment’ (I’ve just had a flashback to me lying on the pavement outside her nursery, trying to fish one out from under a neighbouring car, failing, and having to sit listening to screams while we waited for the driver to return).
The pleading, the bribery (my husband would rattle a dummy to get Phoebe’s attention), the judgement from other parents (and my mother), hating how it looked in photos, hating how much we all relied upon this plastic arsenal that we kept in the cupboard, worrying about her teeth, wishing we’d whipped it away at a few months before she could articulate what she wanted.
Dummmeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! More sobs, more pleading, more giving in.
Enough was enough.
I think we established a long time ago that I’m not a parenting expert. Far from it. So I asked readers of this lovely blog what worked for them, and had a go.
There were many suggestions, from swapping dummies for presents on Christmas Eve (is it just me, or does a wailing child sound like torture on Christmas Day?) and going cold turkey with no explanation (brutal), to weaning off gradually by limiting to bedtime (Phoebe would whine too much for it at other times, I feared) and distracting your toddler when they’d usually want their dummy (I would run out of stickers by lunchtime).
The one that made the most sense for us was The Dummy Fairy – a magical creature who swaps your child’s dummies for a present or ten.
So here’s what we did…
- LOTS of casual chat about older friends being big girls and boys, so not having a dummy.
- Telling her a few days in advance about how The Dummy Fairy chooses big, kind girls and boys to give their dummies to new babies who need them, and asking what present she would like from her as a thank you.
- Tracking down all/any Peppa Pig items from across Dubai. I won’t lie – they’re a rip-off here, so I bought a Peppa Pig playhouse that definitely isn’t licensed merchandise because the pigs are a suspiciously bright shade of pink, and there are two Peppas and no George. Plus stickers and bath bombs for good measure.
- Deciding on a whim to do it that night in case she found said fake swine-related counterfeit goods.
- We located all the dummies in the house (or so I thought…) and snipped the ends off them (very pleasing). Then showed Phoebe and told her that they’re broken, and explaining that The Dummy Fairy will fix them for the babies.
- The dummies were put into a magic cup (eg one with a rainbow on it) and put at the bottom of a tree in our garden. I pointed at the stars and told her The Dummy Fairy was coming, and that we had to run inside and count to ten.
- My husband was hiding around the corner with the presents, and swapped them for the dummies (which were swiftly binned).
- Delight and confusion all round. She wanted to see The Dummy Fairy, so we waved goodbye to a star then played with Peppa’s (dodgy) playhouse for a while.
The next bit…
As expected, after using dummies (the word ‘dummies’ is losing all meaning to me now) as a sleep aid and cue for two-and-a-half years, Phoebe took aaaaaaages to settle that night. She wasn’t crying for one, but seemed weirdly excited. She eventually got to sleep around 9pm.
The next morning, I made a really big deal about her new presents, and how lucky she was, and told her nursery teacher about what we had done, so she could reiterate the story.
Then… not a lot. I was expecting Phoebe to beg for a dummy the next night, but she didn’t.
Turns out I was more terrified about giving them up than she was.
It’s been about a month now, and there have been a few sleepy requests for one, which I laugh off with a ‘Silly! The Dummy Fairy came and gave them to the babies! You got a Peppa house to say thank you, you lucky thing!’ etc, and that seems to be her appeased.
I have, of course, found two dummies around the house since The Great Snipping Session of 2017 – one under a sofa that I quickly binned, and Phoebe discovered one in a kitchen drawer. Immediately it went in her mouth, and it looked so strange. I asked her if it felt funny, and made a face, and she agreed before happily handing it over.
She has put her thumb in her mouth a couple of times (her baby sister is a thumbsucker – as am I when I’m knackered!), usually when she’s in a new situation or feeling shy, but it’s fleeting, and I don’t think it will become a habit.
There was one MEGA meltdown when she was overtired and saw her friend’s dummy. Ballistic is an understatement. But I do feel like it was a one-off, and later told Phoebe that her friend is younger and hasn’t been ‘chosen’ by The Dummy Fairy yet.
The lies, the lies…!
I feel I need to further explain just how addicted Phoebe was. She was mad for it. Needed a fix at all hours. And in the quest for peace and quiet she got it. Anything to avoid the whinging, wailing and wheedling. She’d be tearful and angry when refused. It was changing her for the worse, and had to go.
I feared I’d become like an ex-smoker in the way that they’re suddenly repulsed and noisily judgemental about their beloved habit as soon as it’s beaten, but I don’t care if other kids have them. I’m grateful that our nine-month-old daughter isn’t interested, but purely because it means I don’t need to worry about forgetting one when we go out, or having to go through this palaver again.
Does it affect their teeth and language skills? Many dentists advise against them after the age of one, but who knows. It’s hard to say, when you don’t have a direct comparison point for your child.
Is there a right time to bin them? I’d say when they’re causing more problems than they’re solving.
But I will say that if you’re scared of going through this – I was too – then you might just be pleasantly surprised…