Dummies and language development

There’s a lot of debate about whether or not using a dummy is bad for children. Here is some of the evidence both for and against

It seems that it is overuse that does the damage; occasional use is probably not harmful (unless your child’s dentist/speech therapist says otherwise). So if you do let your child use a dummy, have rules.

Suggested dummy rules;

The case against

The case for:

All in all, unless your child’s dentist or speech therapist says otherwise, there doesn’t seem to be any need to stop dummy-loving under threes using one in moderation (some children just aren’t interested anyway). Determined little suckers will suck their thumbs if they don’t have dummies, and that habit is harder to break since you can’t remove thumbs (Struwwelpeter notwithstanding…)

When to stop

Again, the experts disagree: the two main camps are “stop them at one” and the “stop them at three”. The one group seem to think that since the only proven benefits of dummies are for children under a year old (settling babies and encouraging strong sucking patterns) they should be removed as soon as possible. This may ignore the dummy’s effect on a child’s feelings of security and comfort; at three-ish, a child can usually understand enough to give it up permanently (eventually…). But even before then dummy use should not be unrestricted; the child must be taught to remove it when speaking, for instance.

So, if they’re not off the dummy by three, it’s time to start phasing out the habit. But do it gently! Nagging and battles will just stress the child (as well as you, and you don’t have a dummy to soothe you) so they’ll just want the dummy more.

How to stop

Start gently breaking them of the habit when they turn three. Use persuasion and reward: cuddles and praise when you see them without the dummy, and gently removing it from their mouth and putting it somewhere safe where they know they can get it if they want to. Point out (or get older children to point out…) that big boys and girls don’t use dummies. If they’re younger and a heavy user, get them to cut down (again, gently) – start by making them remove the dummy when they speak. Making them go cold turkey is very unlikely to work: they’ll find thumbs or blankets or toys to suck instead and, since dummy-sucking is such a soothing habit, breaking it abruptly can severely distress a child. And they’ll make sure everyone around them is distressed too.

In all, take it slowly and gently, giving the child a choice as much as possible. Patience and kindness reaps dividends!

Research by Rachel Carthy and Will Macdonald