[caption id="attachment_940" align="aligncenter" width="380" caption="Until now, this was one of the last times she slept without a dummy"][/caption]
We recently helped our daughter get rid of her dummy (overseas readers may be more familiar with the term 'pacifier'), and a lot of people have asked how we did it. It’s all a bit of a mystery, this giving up the dummy business, and we just made it up as we went along – but some of our ideas might help if you’re in the middle of the same mystery.
My little girl takes most things in her stride. In her three years she’s experienced a lot of change – a mum whose work situation changes constantly; attending childcare on and off, sometimes for half days and sometimes for long days; a major renovation involving changing rooms, going from a cot to a toddler bed to a big bed; camping and travelling to four states of Australia and overseas, driving long distances and going on planes and sleeping in hotels, tents and cars – and she hasn’t batted an eyelid at any one of those things.
Giving up her dummy, however, was another issue entirely.
I was very against giving my child a dummy in the first place, but as a baby she would scream herself to sleep (no matter what we tried). One day, after two hour-long screaming sessions before her daytime naps, Steve insisted we give the dummy a try. He put it in her mouth and after two sucks she was asleep. Our days were much more pleasant, and I quickly became used to the idea of having a baby who liked dummies. (She has never had it while awake though – from day one, the rule was that the dummy was not to leave her cot or bed.)
Preparing to give up the dummy
Recently, we had tried a couple of times to encourage her to give up the dummy – she thought the idea of a ‘dummy fairy’ was fun during the day, but when she became distressed at bedtime we made the decision not to push too far. We didn’t want this to be a traumatic experience for her, so although we no longer wanted her to be reliant on the dummy, we felt we should wait until she was ready.
Still, we kept talking about dummy fairies, making sure she knew that dummies were something she wouldn’t always need.
The day came
Then last Sunday morning, while having one of those conversations, she asked if the dummy fairy could come. Steve and I agreed it was time to give it another try, and he helped her wash the dummies and put them in the little blue bag, leaving them hanging on her bedroom door handle while we went out for the day.
It was while we were out that Steve had the brainwave: what if she received her surprise from the dummy fairy before bedtime? Previously, we had tried telling her the fairy would come while she slept, but waiting is a difficult concept for a three-year-old.
So when we arrived home, Steve distracted her while I did the switch. She was very excited to see her little soft toy, and asked where her dummies were. “The dummy fairy is giving them to little babies who need them,” we explained. She thought about that for a moment before shaking her head. “No,” she disagreed. “This toy is made out of my dummies.” Okay, we could go with that. It comforted her to think she still had her dummies with her.
The rest of the afternoon, we kept talking about her new toy and about how grown up she was that she didn’t need a dummy that night. But truth be told, we were nervous.
We opted for an early bedtime, just in case she got upset or it took her a while to fall asleep, and also wanting to get her used to the idea before she hit that point of tiredness that’s completely beyond reason.
We have a very simple bedtime routine at our house: teeth, toilet, pyjamas, bed, light out, door shut. Done. (It surprises a lot of people that we don’t do bedtime stories but we’ve always found they wake her up more – we read plenty during the day though, and if she needs something a little more to fall asleep Steve recites a special poem to her.) (It also surprises a lot of people that she falls asleep so well and so quickly by herself – this is something we worked on for a long time!)
This particular night was not such a simple routine. We did teeth, toilet, pyjamas, bed, light out (and of course gave her the special new toy and her favourite teddy bear), and then Steve sat with her for a few minutes. She then asked for me, so I rubbed her back, gave her a cuddle, practiced my very best patience as she squirmed around for a while, and then she requested Steve again. Eventually, she fell asleep as he rubbed her back and recited their special poem.
It took an hour for her to fall asleep. There were no tears, just a couple of quiet requests for her dummy (and she woke once during the night asking, too) but she didn’t push the issue or get upset.
It occurred to me afterwards that this was a big learning curve for her – after relying on a dummy for pretty much her whole life, suddenly she needed to learn how to fall asleep by herself. All that messing around and looking like she was stalling bedtime - that was just her uncertainty at what to do and how to adjust to this change.
The next morning, I told her how proud I was of her and then we rang Steve so he could gush over her too. We did some other special things for her that day - I gave her a special gold star sticker and when Steve arrived home from work he took her to the park – all the while reminding her how proud we were.
It's now been six nights, and interestingly night four was the worst. We got through the tears that night with some talking, cuddling and soothing, and she seems to be slowly becoming more confident in her ability to do this.
There has also been lots of imaginative play with her toys having dummies being taken by dummy fairies too! which is cute but, more importantly, I imagine it's helping her make sense of it.
So, why did it work this time?
I could try to take credit, or Steve could claim it was his brainwave that made it work (and those things are true - she did need our support), but if there's anything I've learnt from this, it's that she needed to be ready.
No matter what tricks we tried, if she wasn’t ready she’d still be sucking madly on that thing.