DUMMY ADDICTION | Why I Can’t Let My Toddler Quit the Dummy
I blame the nurse – she’s the one who suggested the damn dummy in the first place.
Reuben loves a dummy – or “mam mam” as he calls them. He thinks they’re the best! And I wouldn’t disagree, dummies are pretty useful. Tired? Pop in a dummy. Upset? Pop in a dummy. Hungry but got no snacks to hand? Pop in a dummy. Overtired and going hyper? Bung in that dummy. But now Reuben’s turned two, we’ve begun to worry his late speech may be down to having a dummy suctioned to his face for far too long. And the worst of it? I feel like I’ve been the problem.
Now, when Reuben was born there wasn’t a dummy in sight. I didn’t bring any with me in the hospital bag and none were brought in when Mr C ferried our dirty washing and fresh new clothes back and forth to the maternity unit. There. Were. No. Dummies.
But then came our second hospital stay; when we’d barely been home a day and a shot of nasal drops put Reuben into an unconscious state, sending us right back into hospital, by ambulance into A&E, this time finding ourselves on the children’s ward.
After a day or two of sleepless nights (in part due to the two hourly newborn feeds but mostly because Reuben couldn’t settle having his leg wired up to a monitor) one of the nurses posed us with the question: “have you tried a dummy?”, presenting to us the oddest looking hospital grade dummy. So we tried it. Reuben actually didn’t take to it straight off and just spat it out, but we kept offering it in the hope he’d suck long enough to give us half an hour rest. And when we finally came to leave and had to hand the dummy back, one of the first jobs heading home was to buy a set of dummies, which dawned the regretted mam mam love affair.
If babies aren’t guzzling milk they’re sleeping for England, so for a long time it seemed Reuben always had a dummy in his mouth. It just became the norm; if Reuben needed settling to sleep or comforting in his bouncy chair, we’d pop in a dummy. As a newborn, he regularly suffered painful trapped wind and bedtimes were brutal for this, when he’d endlessly cry no matter what we did to alleviate his discomfort. A dummy didn’t cure it but it did help calm him down through the tears and he’d settle much quicker if we offered him one.
The truth is, a dummy is the perfect convenience. It’s a win win situation, or at least it was for a while; Reuben feels content with a dummy and that gives me relief. Simple as that. And who’d argue with that? No one wants an upset child. But the reality is, it’s dummy dependence and I don’t know who feeds off the need most.
Reuben’s not mute, he is actually starting to say a lot of words now so his speech is getting there. He just isn’t saying as much as he could be by now, and for the past six weeks we’ve been taking him to speech therapy to kick his language into gear. I’m sure at the root of it, Reuben possibly hasn’t been talking so much because he’s mega active instead, he was an early walker, so it could just be that developmentally he hasn’t been ready (or wanting) to talk much yet. However that hasn’t helped the frustrated tantrums when he’s probably wished he could convey what it is he does or doesn’t want.
It’s not unusual for a toddler of Reuben’s age to use a dummy. While some kids may have never taken to one, those who did still take comfort from the use of a dummy, especially when they can help settle to sleep. There are three instances where Reuben will ask for a dummy – when he’s tired and upset, when he’s put into his car seat and when he’s got into bed. We aim not to let him have one during the day, but sometimes it feels like he’s still ending up with a dummy in his mouth far too much, whether it’s him getting his way or I’m caving.
The problem is… me. And I know it, but my battle with the dummy is ultimately the manifestation of my anxiety. Trying to wean Reuben off the dummy is the hardest thing to make myself carry through – I can’t do it. My anxious state makes me get worked up, panic, cry and lose my temper. While Reuben’s Dad can judge whether Reuben really needs a dummy or not and deal with the short lived crying before he gets over the initial upset, I can’t. Hearing Reuben calling, the sound of upset voice, the crying, it cuts me because it’s still hitting that nerve of my fear of Reuben crying.
Whenever we leave the house, whether we’re taking Reuben to a morning group or heading out shopping, I always have to ask if we have a dummy on us. I just can’t leave without one. Occasionally we’ve forgotten one and the anxiety has been immense, even if Reuben has coped without a dummy, I barely haven’t.
I know distraction can help when Reuben wants a dummy. I try to offer snacks to deter thoughts away from settling down for a sleep when he really doesn’t need to be. And talking about what we’re doing, pointing things out and asking what they are, initiating conversation so his mind is occupied elsewhere. Sometimes I’ll try to play it cool and directly ask him to take his dummy out so we can hear what he’s saying, and that’s a big ‘wow’ moment when Reuben actually does it and hands me the dummy to put away in my pocket. But it doesn’t always work and if he’s tired, well I’m defeated.
So you see, Reuben loves a dummy. It’s his routine and it’s hard breaking routine, especially when you can’t verbally communicate your thoughts and emotions very well. And I know, the dummy is precisely what’s putting a plug in it, and I’m perpetuating the wheel. But what I can do? Of course I don’t want Reuben lagging behind and heading off to nursery with a dummy. But all I see is the choice between losing the dummy or losing my sh*t which, in all honesty, is what we really could do with seeing less of around here.