‘We didn’t have the heart to take away our son’s dummy when he was an infant. Later on, we didn’t have the energy. Now he’s so attached to it we’re afraid he’ll never give it up.’
It’s a pretty sure bet that your son won’t have to pop the dummy from his mouth in order to kiss the bride on his wedding day. Despite the secret fears harboured by parents of persistent dummy users, almost all children abandon the beloved plug by age four or five, and moist stop sucking well before.
Among experts, dummy use probably has about as many supporters as detractors. On the positive side, research has shown that the use of a dummy is beneficial for premature newborns and for colicky babies. On the negative it has been found that prolonged use of dummy appears to increase the risk of ear infection and may damage the structure of the mouth and the position of teeth, sometime causing speech problems and increasing the risk of accidental injury to front teeth. Beyond this, little research has been done on the effects of dummy use, and the little has been done hasn’t shed much light. As a result, most opinion is based on gut instinct.
Many questions about dummy use remain unanswered. Does it encourage a need for oral gratification later in life (and thus the use of tobacco or other drugs), or does it reduce such a need? Does it inhibit the development of language or a sociability (smiling, for example)? Does using a dummy to comfort or calm himself interfere with a toddler’s learning to self-control and self-calm? Until more research is done, you will have to decide for yourself when you want to pull the plug. Here are some factors to consider in making your decision:
- Has dummy use begun to affect your child’s mouth and teeth? This is most likely if your toddler uses the dummy for lengthy periods every day. Check with a pediatric dentist for the answer. If it’s yes, you should consider terminating the dummy in the near future no matter what your answers to the remaining questions.
- Do you use the dummy to keep your toddler quiet or off your back? Planting a dummy in the mouth of a child who is upset inhibits self-expression, a valuable human resource. And consider how you would feel if someone shoved a rubber teat into your mouth every time you opened it to speak your mind.
- Does the dummy seem to be hampering your toddler’s language development? Does he grunt and point when it’s in his mouth, instead of using words?
- Does the dummy seem to interfere with your toddler’s social development by hindering his interactions with others? (Keep in mind, however, that a young toddler’s social skills are naturally immature.)
If you feel that the dummy is having a negative effect on your toddler and you’d like to break him of the habit sooner rather than older, you can take some steps towards that end.
Establish limits. Just what the limits are should depend on how and when your toddler uses the dummy and how-devastated he would without it. You might suggest, for example, that now that he’s bigger, he use the dummy only in the house, or only when going to sleep.
Provide extra comfort. If your toddler seems dependent on the dummy for comfort, offer him other sources of solace. Heap on the love and attention, particularly when he’s feeling down or insecure. Before he reaches for it, reach him for with a hug. Or distract him with a story. Or turn on some soothing music and settle down for a cuddle. Or let him pound out his anxieties or anger on a pile of clay, or express them in painting. Also take steps to help boost his sense of control and his self-esteem.
Keep his mouth busy. Ask questions, strike up conversation, encourage him to recite rhymes, sing, laugh, make funny faces in the mirror, suck juice from a straw and otherwise use his mouth for non-dummy purpose. If he tries to talk with the dummy in his mouth, let him know that you can’t understand him, that he has to remove it if he wants you to know what he’s saying.
Don’t let him go hungry – or sleepy. The child who’s hungry or overtired tends to lose his ability to cope; it’s then that he’s likely to turn to a familiar coping mechanism, such as his dummy. To cut down on your toddler’s need for the dummy. To cut down on your toddler’s need for the dummy, make sure he gets the nourishment (offer a snack before he hits a blood-sugar low) and rest than his body requires.
These measures may help reduce dummy use, but they aren’t likely to end it. More decisive action is usually needed. If you decide to allow your toddler to use the dummy a bit longer, consult his pediatric dentist about the model to use. Although it is widely believed that the so-called ‘orthodontic’ dummy is potentially less damaging to the mouth, there are experts in pediatric dentistry who strongly disagree. They recommend one that is shaped like a thumb – if one is used at all. Whatever the shape, look for one-piece construction, which is safest because it can’t come apart. (Never use an ordinary bottle teat as a dummy since it presents a choking hazard.) The dummy shield (the flat part between the teat and the ring) should be rigid, too large to fit in your toddler’s mouth (at least 4cm/ 1 1/2 inches across), and it shouldn’t have ventilation holes.