Ditching the Dummy

IMG_3168If you ask my three-and-a-half year old son what he loves most in the world, I suspect you would find ‘mummy and daddy’ residing at #2. The top spot would undoubtedly be taken by ‘dummy and blanket’. Yes, that’s right, my three-and-a-half year old son still has a dummy and blanket.

I know dummies can be a contentious issue which divides parents across the land. Some view them as symptomatic of ‘lazy parenting’, whilst others plug up their children without a second thought. I can’t say we’re in either camp, in fact, we gave it very little thought the first time we gave him dummy as a tiny baby – which is ironic, given that dummy and blanket {or D&B and they shall henceforth be known} have become as much a permanent and prominent fixture in our family life as my son himself.

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Loving his dummy at three months old.

Big Monkey was always a sucky baby – he took to his dummy like a duck to water and it seemed to have this remarkably calming effect on him. When a baby sucks it releases endorphins in the brain, soothing the child. This was definitely the case for my son and as the months of his life progressed into years, D&B remained by his side.

We passed the 6 month age {where parenting ‘experts’ recommend removing the dummy} but he was so bad at going down to sleep at night {we would be up with him screaming and crying for a good few hours every evening – but that’s another post} and the only thing that soothed him in his crazy state was his trusty old dummy.

We then hit the year-and-a-half stage, where once again the ‘experts’ recommend removing the dummy {presumably because the child can now understand that it will be going, to a relative degree}, but by this age we’d hit the terrible two’s early, and once again, D&B were the only things that calmed the frequent meltdowns that we were living through. Somehow the months flew by and we’re now at the stage where my son will turn 4 in April and I’m very conscious that we need to get rid of the dummy once and for all. I’m more than happy for blanket to remain, but they very much come as a pair, so this could prove harder than I thought.

Just before Christmas, he showed some interest when I mentioned the dummy fairy. I explained that he would leave his dummies for the fairy to take at night and in the morning she would leave a present in exchange for his dummies. He seemed quite keen on this idea, so I ran with this enthusiasm and tried it that very night. It resulted in three and a half hours of sobbing {his and mine}, no sleep and a very distressed little boy and mummy. It was heartbreaking to seem in such a state and I don’t think either of us were prepared for it. Needles to say, the dummy came back.

Some people have ‘helpfully’ suggested that we just go cold turkey…but they haven’t met my son. He is a wonderfully energetic little boy that lives life to the full. He puts 110% into everything that interests him, he loves to make people laugh, has an incredible imagination and is incredibly strong-minded. We’re talking dog-with-a-bone, result-oriented and steely determination of an ancient warrior. He is what the ‘experts’ would describe as a “spirited child” – and I would agree.

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My beautiful, spirited boy.

The definition of a spirited child is that they are ‘more’ than the average child – more emotional {the ups and the downs}, more energetic, more intense, more perceptive, more prone to struggling with change and more persistent or determined. He ticks all these boxes but the last characteristic is most true – and never more so than where D&B are concerned. He has such a strong psychological attachment to them that when he’s in the middle of a total meltdown because I suggested the blue pants instead of the black ones, the only thing that seems to break the cycle is D&B. You can almost hear a switch flipping in his brain and with every suck his rage subsides and the red mist dissipates.

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Brothers with dummies.

The hub and I have spoken at length about this {read as ‘I have spoken to him a lot about this and he’s probably pig-sick of hearing about it by now’} and knowing our son, we realise we have to take a staggered approach to ditching the dum. It started at new year and we explained to Big Monkey that as he was such a big boy now, we felt it was time that D&B stayed in his bed all day. He could have them at bedtime, but he wasn’t allowed to take them downstairs/in the car/to the child minder’s. This was met with relative agreement and although we’ve had numerous conversations {whines} about why Little Monkey is allowed his downstairs {and apparently “because he’s a baby” isn’t a good enough reason} and a few hissy fits, he’s actually done really well and I’m so proud of him.

But when he gets tired, has a melt down or hurts himself, this is where we run into trouble. My heart hurts for him when he’s sobbing for “dum-dum and blanket”. I can see he’s at a loss to know how to sooth himself without them. He’s had them as his pacifiers all his life, suddenly they’ve been stripped away and his three-and-half-year-old brain is struggling to override it’s default reaction. I am trying to help him learn different ways to calm himself and he really is trying. The other day I caught him slow-breathing just like I taught him, and when I asked if he was ok, he replied, “Please leave me alone mummy, I’m just trying to calm myself down.” Hugely proud mummy moment.

So it’s still early days but I think the softly-softly approach is working. He is still as attached to them as ever at bedtime and I think it will take a miracle to break that one, but for now, I’m happy with our baby steps. Some days I wonder if I’m instigating the removal of D&B as the result of some subconscious level of social expectations – maybe I should just let him have them at nighttime and allow him to give them up in his own time. But knowing my son and his determination, he will still have them when he’s 16.

IMG_8559But then I remember at the very least, I want him to be able to know how to self-soothe without a prop, to be confident in knowing that he can control his emotions without reaching for D&B. I think this is hugely important for his emotional development. So we will continue on this slow, tentative road towards dummy-freedom and hope that we can cross the bridge without too much emotional distress {his and mine}. One step at a time…

 

13 thoughts on “Ditching the Dummy

  1. silviahm says:

    My brother still has his blanket and he is 38, and he actually went out with a girl who also had the self same blanket – the relationship lasted quite a long time! Does it matter? I don’t think so. In France they don’t seem to have any issues about dummies in older children. I think they look ugly, but really that’s just because I’m not used to it as it is so frowned upon here that you don’t see many children with them. I can’t remember much trauma removing the dummy from my three, but that just means they were happy to give them up! The dummy will go when the dummy goes.

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  2. I dont know that there is a right or wrong answer, only you know your child, and each child is different. Personally it sounds like you’re doing the right thing, he’ll only get teased at school the second another child finds out he has a dummy! We were really lucky as parents, we gave our little girl a dummy at four weeks old, and by about three months old she kept spitting it out and didn’t want it any more… needless to say, it has now been replaced by the thumb!

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    • You’re right, each child is different and I know with my son I have do the removal in small steps! I’m sure he’ll get there but I dread the first night without it (nowhere near yet!). That’s great your little girl chose to get rid of it herself! As an ex fellow thumb-sucker, I think she made a good choice!!

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  3. Helen says:

    My son had his ‘dum n rag’ till he was 3 1/2 plus. I let him gradually wean himself off. Eventually he just wanted it at night or if not well and it gradually got less and less until he just didn’t mention it any more. My thoughts were they all walk into school without their dummies blankets bottles nappies etc so from 0 -5 does it matter what they do. Its such a short time.

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      • Given that she is 21 and has had 5 siblings follow her, it isn’t too easy to recall but I do believe we eventually took it away. My husband and I are currently struggling with trying to get our 7 year olds to give up their thumbs. I don’t want to take away the comfort toys that accompany the thumb sucking. I know that this will pass. My oldest son used to suck this tongue and he eventually gave it up even though I did not remove his comfort toy. They all get there eventually. You should commend yourself on how well you can read your son. And he’ll get there!:)

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  4. Such a lot of wise advice re D&B all sound. My own opinion is that you are approaching the situation with wisdom and kindness for dum-dum person. He will drop it at his own pace ( and he will) Let it happen. I am very impressed that he has grasped the principles of ‘calming the breathing’ Good lad. Think he has earned some Dum-Dum!

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