Should my child be using a dummy?

These days, it’s become increasingly common to see children up to four years old with dummies plugged firmly in their mouths. But do children of this age really need a dummy and does having their mouth persistently blocked by one harm or hinder their development?

Dummies are also known as soothers or pacifiers, this is exactly their role, but only in the newborn child who may need it in those first unsettled weeks of life. Dummies are not essential items, many parents manage very well without resorting to them and babies will gradually learn to self comfort. This may include thumb or finger sucking - which many babies learn to do in the uterus.

There are times, however, in those early unsettled weeks when the baby has become so fractious that its parents feel that a dummy has become an essential item to placate and relax the child. How should they use it?

• Use it only when the baby is in an unsettled state.

• DO NOT use it when the child is quiet and contented.

• Be scrupulous with regards to sterilizing to avoid infections such as oral thrush or gastroenteritis.

• Discard the dummy during the day when the baby is about three to four months of age. However, it may be used whilst the baby goes to sleep up to the age of 12 months, as this has been shown to reduce the risk of cot death.

But always bear in mind that using a dummy may inhibit successful breastfeeding.

From about six weeks, a baby, always eager to communicate, will start to coo and vocalise with its parents.

From three to four months the baby will begin to grasp objects and for the first year will take them to his mouth and explore them.

A child with a dummy constantly in its mouth will be unable to communicate or explore effectively.

Newborn babies suck, older babies (six to seven months) chew. Chewing exercises the tongue and facial muscles and in turn that helps to promote clear speech. Constant sucking does not and the child’s speech may become slushy and indistinct.

What about those children who have not had their dummies removed at the appropriate time? Dummies are not particularly attractive to see on a child, they also seem to have an effect in suppressing their natural vitality. The habit of having an object constantly in their mouths becomes entrenched. They suck on it constantly and endeavour to talk with the dummy bobbing about in their mouths - so rendering what they are trying to say incoherent. From about 18-24 months the dummy will become as precious as the teddy or comfort blanket and it will be extremely difficult to separate the child from it.

Lose that dummy!

But while it is difficult to separate the child from its beloved dummy, it is not impossible.

• Gradually limit the times the child has access to the dummy, giving it only when the child is settling down to sleep. At other times when he is demanding it, try to occupy him in other pleasurable ways with stories, songs and games that he will eventually enjoy more than the dummy.

• For the three to four-year-old a star chart can be very effective (a star chart should be used for one activity at a time) Initially give the child a star if he manages to get to lunchtime without his dummy and again before bedtime. Ensure he gets positive reinforcement by showing the chart to other family members and the teachers at nursery school etc. with praise for his efforts.

• Try to substitute the dummy with a new cuddly toy or other comforter (this should not be tried in isolation but with the suggestions above).

• Eventually when the use has been reduced to such a degree the dummy can be ceremoniously discarded and given to the “Dummy Fairy” in exchange for a gift.

As we all know, it’s not always easy to change entrenched habits. It will take perseverance and patience, but it will also be worth it. I wish you good luck!


Related links

Motor skills matter: Learn all about the giant leaps for toddler-kind.

Supernanny Guide to Healthy Eating: If it feels like your child is eating all the wrong foods - or not eating at all - these Supernanny tips could help.

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