How to get your toddler off the dummy

Your kid finding it hard to say ‘bye-bye’ to binky? Here’s how to help them break the habit. It’s easier than giving up cigarettes … trust me.

Dad toddler dummy

We’re pretty big about not judging other people’s kids – or other parents – around here. We like to encourage good behaviour, and not rag on the little things that dads sometimes get wrong.

But … I’ve gotta say there’s something deeply weird about seeing a child who’s nearing the end of their toddling years (between 3 and 4 years old) wandering about with a pacifier jammed in their gob.

Even before I was a dad, I used to think it was strange that parents would let their kids grow up, but not grow out of, behaviour as basic as sucking on a dummy.

(Before I was a dad, I spent a fair bit of time in noisy nightclubs where I also thought it was strange that grown adults would use pacifiers.)

A few weeks back I was at the local shopping centre with my kids and we stopped to let them have a play (and give me a break from the incessant ‘Daaaaaaaad! Can we get some toys today?’).

And sure enough, there’s another kid in the play area, at least four years old, chomping away on a dummy as he ran around with the other children.

My curiosity very nearly got the better of me, and I had to stop myself from asking why (or, more accurately, how) the boy’s parents hadn’t managed to wean him off the dummy.

I mean, the kid was old enough to walk and talk in fairly complete sentences. It’s just that he was doing it with a pacifier – talking around it like an old bloke with a smoke between his lips at the pub.

Apart from the fact there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that extended sucking on a dummy when you have growing teeth can cause serious dental problems (think overbite) and the increased risk of infection (think skanky pacifier), it’s not a great look for the kid or parent.

I don’t know who the boy’s parents are but if you’re reading this, here are a few tips to help your kid spit the dummy.

It’s time to let go

The good news is that it’s far easier than weaning a baby off the boob because of the simple fact that you can actually talk to a toddler, and there’s a good chance they’ll understand you.

So getting junior to ditch the dummy begins with a conversation, but don’t shame them into changing their behaviour. Start by pointing out that all the other kids their age don’t have dummies – and keep it positive.

“As kids get older, they don’t need a dummy, and now you’re a big boy, it might be time to let it go” is a far better, and more positive approach, than “only babies use dummies!”

It’s like giving up smoking

When my old man gave up smoking, he did it by setting up boundaries for himself. He started with ‘no smoking in the house’, followed by ‘no smoking in the car’ then ‘no smoking in the office’ – and so it went until he had nowhere left to smoke.

So he stopped entirely. Unlike me, unfortunately.

The same approach works with toddlers, except you save the dummy for exceptional circumstances.

If there’s something in your toddler’s life that’s causing them anxiety (and which prompts them to want the comfort of the pacifier), then limit the dummy to those times.

Probably the easiest place to start is imposing time limits: “I know you want your binky at night because it helps you sleep … so you don’t need it during the day when you’re awake and playing, do you?”

Sabotage works well, too

As cruel as this might sound, domestic sabotage can work wonders. In the case of dummies, if you prick the bulb with a pin they become less satisfying to suck on.

(I learnt this from one of my old nightclubbing mates, who chewed through her ‘binky’ one night and went home to get a new one in the middle of one of the greatest old-school Detroit house sets I’ve ever heard.)

Yes, it’s technically lying to your kids but it’s one of those little white lies that parents rely on to get through the day. We all do it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Positive role models

If your little one’s being stubborn about it, then turn to the power of celebrity worship to help them along.

Start a conversation about the dummy, then spend some time with them watching their favourite cartoon or movie – and asking them to point out whenever Batman or Dora the Explorer has a dummy in their mouth.

The answer will be precisely zero – and that’s a great opportunity for you to reinforce that as little kids become big kids, they don’t use dummies anymore.

A final farewell

If the pacifier obsession has been one that feels like it’s set in stone, what can help at the end of the process is to say a final goodbye – like a funeral.

Gather any of the dummies left in the house, and have a little ceremony – a chance to say goodbye to an old friend, but couched in terms that make it a positive “I’m turning into a big kid now!” experience.

Once that’s done, bin every pacifier and don’t buy them another one.

Job done, and you won’t end up at the wrong end of quizzical looks from strangers when your toddler’s looking like a victim of the mid-’90s rave culture while they’re playing with their mates.

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