When I'm asked how to encourage children to give up their dummies, I often advocate the giving it to Santa/Easter Bunny/Dummy Fairy *delete as appropriate. In fact, I've even been known to dress up as the dummy fairy a long time ago - I must have been the most-hated person in Jersey that night!

However, beyond the comfort that very young babies get from suckling and soothing, dummies can become the bane of a speech and language therapist's life. The dentists probably aren't that keen either, with prolonged dummy sucking leading to an open bite mal-aligned teeth, called an interior bite.

I know, I know, this can also be caused by thumb sucking, so safe to say, it's a lot easier to get rid of a dummy than it is your child's thumb, without taking drastic measures, that is.

So, I'm not a Dummy Nazi. I don't go around snatching dummies out of babies mouths as they cruise around the supermarket. But when a 6 year old walks into my clinic with significant speech sound difficulties, I really wish they had been encouraged to break the habit earlier so the speech problems weren't there in the first place. [and before I get any comments, yes sometimes SLTs recommend dummies for babies with a weak sucking reflex]

Typical speech difficulties caused by prolonged dummy use are using /k/ and /g/ for everything, e.g. saying "goggy" for doggy or "kak" for cat. Also, having a lateral /s/ otherwise known as slushy speech (as used by Sid the Sloth in Ice Age.) Or a lisp. All of which are quite difficult to 'undo.'

Babies need to babble - it's how they practise the sounds needed for speech. And dummies just get in the way. So, if you do use a dummy to soothe, then keep it for that - soothing - or bedtime and not just as a habit.

Most of my early years colleagues report that the children don't ask for their dummies all day, then as soon as the parent picks them up, they still don't ask for it, but they are given it. So, it is a habit and it is usually the parent's habit.

I'd love to see dummy use being reduced by about 12 months but definitely by 2 years and then it's simply a case of going cold turkey. Pick a time when you as parents are not using it as a prop to survive life.. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, so there is definitely a time where needs must.

But if you are ready and feeling strong (!) talk about how Santa likes to collect dummies to give them to the little babies for Christmas. "Now you're a big boy/girl, and big boys/girls don't use dummies."

I love the idea of having a "Dummy Christmas Tree" at your local playgroup/nursery. Children can be encouraged to bring their dummies and make Christmas decorations out of them (cover them in glitter to they are not tempted to go in for a stealth suck on the sly!) Tie them on the tree with tinsel or ribbon and in return they get a gift of something like bubbles or a party blower - basically something they can do now they haven't got a dummy in their gob.

This is probably a better idea than giving them up to the real Santa on Christmas day as it might turn in to the night from hell - and it's hard enough to get them to sleep on Christmas eve!

Once they have given them up, there's no going back (unless they are really ill or something comes up that's needing lots of soothing.) But gentle reminders using positive language can help. "Ooh, remember you're a big boy and you were kind and gave them to Santa for the babies." or "you gave the dummy to Santa and he gave you a really lovely toy."

Remember, choose a time that is good for you. Know that dummy sucking IS a habit and children who continue to use dummies are more likely to have teeth and speech problems. And, yes, you'll hate me for one night - two nights tops - and then you'll thank me.

You're welcome!

*This blog is my own opinion and does not represent the views of all Speech and Language Therapists. Just the sensible ones.