What's the Deal With Dummies?
Updated: Aug 17
Dummies and thumb sucking is such a hot topic for Speech and Language Therapists.
Dummies (also known by a range of other names including pacifiers, dodies and soothers) can affect a number of developmental features in young children.
Children are less likely to try to talk or babble when they have a dummy in their mouth. Often children will point or grunt to get a whole message across where children the same age who don’t have dummies are using short phrases or sentences with more ease.
Dummies can affect the way the front teeth grow and can restrict the front teeth coming together which can impact on eating and the ability to bite. If you google ‘dummy teeth’ you can see images of teeth with big gaps at the front, called an open bite.
Speech Sound Development
Dummies restrict tongue movement and interfere with sensitivity on the alveolar ridge. That’s the part of the hard palate inside the mouth behind the top teeth. Here we produce a whole bunch of sounds including T D N L S Z SH CH J.
Have a go at saying these sentences while sucking your thumb:
“Thomas took my teddy”
“Dan doesn’t do dancing”
“Simon, stop being silly”
Sounds funny, right? Did you notice you were using any other sounds to help you say those words? This is what happens for some children who constantly have a dummy in their mouth when they are trying to talk. They start to use substitute sounds and then may need speech therapy to help them to break these habits.
But it helps them sleep…
I know. My own children had dummies and it was the BEST THING to get them to go to sleep so I could enjoy some precious evening time and get some shut eye myself. However, keep it in the bedroom. If your little one is awake, they don’t need their dummy. Not even on the sofa.
When you collect your preschooler up from nursery/daycare/the childminder, take the opportunity to ask some questions like did you sing a song today? Was there painting? Did you build a tower? If you give them the dummy straight away that sends a message that you don’t want them to talk.
It’s not easy breaking the dummy habit and I had to ask my friends and family for some ideas when it was time for my kids at 18 months old. The textbooks recommend dummy use to be restricted at 6 months and gone by 12 months but even I found this tricky!
Here are some top tips for ditching the dummy:
Gradually decrease their use. Start to keep it to only for nap time and bedtime.
Keep it in the bedroom. It can’t leave that room under any circumstances.
Poke a hole in the dummy so it loses its suction. Or you can snip a tiny bit off the end so it doesn’t have the same feel in the mouth for your child (I thought this was a genius idea when my friend told me this one!)
Put the dummy (or dummies) in a box and swap with Santa for presents or the Easter Bunny for chocolate eggs.
Send the dummy to a new baby relative (but really you can just put the parcel in the bin).
Send them to me! Some of my clinic clients have sent me their dummies in the summer when Santa and the Easter Bunny are on holiday. (Don’t really send them to me, you can pop them in the bin 😉).
Drop it in a puddle. Tell your child it’s yucky and has to go in the bin- this happened to one of my children and I refused to buy another. I bribed her with a biscuit instead.
Give rewards or use a sticker chart to motivate each day they go without a dummy.
⭐ Be confident and firm with your child. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Don’t get another one.
⭐ Make sure you get rid of all of the dummies so there aren’t any your little one could find.
⭐ Don’t try to remove the dummy if there are other big changes going on i.e. starting nursery or moving house.
⭐ It may take a little time for your child to get used to and they may be a little grumpy. This is a battle you need to win for the sake of their teeth and talking.
⭐ Talk to your childcare provider for advice and moral support. They are experts in this area and can help you to help your little one.
Have you seen the Early Years Speech & Language Course?
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