I hold my hands up and openly admit that I used to secretly judge parents of older children with dummies hanging out of their mouths as they buzz about town. I was one of those that had it all figured out in my head, that I’d never let my child hang onto a dummy for that long! In fact, I never planned to let either of my girls have a dummy at all, what with all the dental and speech issues, amongst other negative associations that surrounded long term use of dummies.
Though as you know, (like with many things in life) things don’t always go to plan. Things happen, desperation strikes and as a parent, you will do anything to make your child happy. You want to enjoy the time you spent together as a family unit, and ultimately if a dummy will soothe a crying baby when all else fails – then you give it to them. That’s how it happened with Ava anyway… We agreed to let Ava have a dummy when she was a prem baby in the NICU as it’s believed to prevent SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome aka Cot Death) and with a premature baby it just makes sense. So the dummy has been long cemented in Ava’s routine of self-soothing from pretty much the day she was born. Now almost 3 1/2 years ago…
Knowing about how dummies can cause dental issues, delayed speech and apparently make them unable to self-soothe in a more acceptable way in our society, I told myself “right, when Ava’s 6 months old I’ll take it away.” It wouldn’t be as big of trauma then, she wouldn’t remember actually having a dummy and I’d implement something in its place to make the transition less traumatic; such as a lovey or special teddy. 6 months came and went, with everything else our family had to contend with and the focus on Ava’s other 6 month milestones, it just didn’t take priority. Utilising all my energy on the school run and encouraging Ava to roll, sit and ultimately crawling and then, of course, there was implementing transition onto solids via Baby-led weaning – a controversial weaning method onto solid food that is thought to be more natural and encourage better, healthier eating habits during childhood. Much of which we found to be true, but I’ll save that journey for another blog.
Next, it was 1. It’d get her off the dummy at 1. Many babies still had dummies at this age I convinced myself, it wasn’t like we were at the point of whispers from the general public out and about or that we were out of the age range on the dummy packets. It was fine.
Her first dentist appointment was when she was nearly 2 and much to my disappointment in myself – Ava was still heavily dependant on the dummy. Not just for going to bed at night but we’d give in all day long to her request for it. She used it to calm down after a temper tantrum, to have a nap, to relax on the sofa and have Mummy cuddles. I realised soon that there was no pattern, she simply had the dummy whenever she wanted. As I predicted, the dentist wasn’t best pleased with us. He warned of her teeth not developing properly and tried to tell us her speech was already delayed when I knew in my heart she didn’t talk to anybody she didn’t know. To us, she was ONLY 2, still very much a baby.
After that dentist appointment, the pressure bulldozed. We got it from every angle, from our families, nursery staff, people would come over to her in the buggy and say with raised eyebrows, “Isn’t she a bit big for a dummy?” We tried to take it away gradually, but she was too far gone. She’d scream until she was physically sick, scared – we’d give in and give it back to her. We had succumbed to the last baby syndrome. Ava could get away with most things because she was “the baby” of the family, or because she was simply little. My head told me I had to nip it in the bud but doing so is so much easier said than done. Was it us, me holding her back not herself? Maybe WE couldn’t let go of the dummy because that was yet another part, one of the last things that were associated with her babyhood that’d be gone.
It was coming up to her 3rd Birthday and we’d become the parents of the little ones with dummies I used to judge in my head. Here I was with an almost 3-year-old, still in a buggy, still with a dummy. I had secretly hoped between 2-3 years she’d of self-weaned so it wouldn’t have been so traumatic. We’d parented Ava so differently to Abbie, with Ava, it was all about attachment parenting, all in an attempt to get it right this time. Like many parents, you learn so much through your first child. Ava wouldn’t take to any other form of comfort, we bought many different things from different textured blankets, teddies, taggy blankets, you name it – we tried it. There was just NO substituting that dummy of hers. I’d scroll for hours online looking up methods.
Eventually, I settled on “The Dummy Fairy” method. It seemed the most gentle and put Ava in control of transitioning from a baby-to-big girl. The last thing we wanted was to rip away the only physical thing that she’d taken to bar us. She needed to show us she was ready, that she wanted to grow up. So we did it, we went around the house and collected all the dummies in a basket, ready for the dummy fairy. Ava sucked on each one, one last time for good measure. I explained it over and over, what the fairy was going to do. Take the dummies high into the sky and deliver them to all the poorly babies in hospital. She understood we felt, she’d recite what we’d say back. Sometimes she’d say “No my dummies! No fairy!” but she didn’t tantrum, she’d flip back to reciting “dummies to the fairies, in the sky Mummy? For the babies?” Oh, I could have wept, bless her! So grown up, so selfless and caring.
We went outside with the basket and left it there for the fairy to collect. We came in and I instantly distracted her with tea time, the iPad, whatever to take her mind off wanting a dummy to soothe. It wasn’t until bedtime when she went around collecting all her things for bed – her cup of water, her blanket and ….no dummy. It hit her. For the first night, I lay with her and we watched a show with white noise and she nodded off, without it, for the first night of her life.
And just like that, it was over. All the stress, the anxiety, the judgement, every feeling under the sun over getting her off the dummy had melted away. She did it! Herself with a simple imaginary fairy.
Tomorrow she wakes up a big girl.