The Soother Saga – Part I (How I battled – and won – my son's dummy addiction)
Ok. I think its safe to post this post now. It's been over three weeks since my soother-addicted son has not taken his soother. To nap. To bed. To anywhere. (I'm physically touching all the wood around me as I type… yeah, sometimes I believe in jinxes and all…).
But back to the very beginning. Saga? Why saga? Because the soother (dummy/ pacifier/ binky) has been an integral part of Little Man's – and hence my – life for the past two-and-a-half years. Its comforted him, soothed him through painful teething episodes, put him to sleep, shoo-ed away boredom and irritation, given me much peace of mind and often restored my sanity, provided me with more pleasant shopping experiences and outings, allowed me relatively restful car and plane journeys, and has generally travelled with Little Man and myself everywhere. I would not leave the house without a soother or two in the nappy bag or my handbag.
Things were all hunky-dory and we both were quite in love with the soother… but like all good things, I realised it must at some point come to an end. My 'grand plan' was to wean him off it after he turned one. MISTAKE NUMBER ONE. In retrospect I should've weaned him off it before it became a difficult-to-break-habit. Seven to eight months is the approximate age before actions start becoming habits.
So I started restricting it to naptime and bedtime only, and wouldn't give it to him otherwise. All was going well until… Little Man's pre-molars decided to pop out. Slowly. Painfully. And as mother's luck would have it, Little Man would only get comforted by his soother. He never ever took to teethers (I've lost count as to how many we tried), and instead, starting using his soother as a teether. I, giving in to the typical motherly trait of feeling your child's pain, decided to postpone the timeline of my 'grand plan' and let my poor toddler be comforted by his soother. MISTAKE NUMBER TWO. When trying to get toddler to learn (or in this case unlearn) something, go through with your plan of action instead of taking a stop n' start approach. It confuses them.
And so the weeks flew by, the pre-molars arrived, three vacations happened where his routine went off-schedule which led to him resorting to his soother even more; and before I realised it, I had a toddler who was very, very addicted to his soother. Of course, I tried to wean him off it time and again, reading up tactics on the Internet. I chopped it in half once, but that didn't deter him from holding (sucking) on to whatever of it was left. Besides, he was smarter than I thought and knew I had a stock full of them. MISTAKE NUMBER THREE. I should have just chopped off the rest of it, and not given him the other ones. Instead, I gave in. To his tantrums and demands. And my momentary bliss. And we were back to square one!
Little Man was well over two now and I vowed that weaning him off the soother would be my top priority. Potty training, big boy bed, off the before-bed bottle could all wait. He was jabbering nineteen to the dozen so I wasn't afraid it would affect his speech, but I was sure I wanted it out of our lives BEFORE he turned three. Would it damage his teeth? Would he need braces in the future if he sucked on it longer? Mixed opinions. Who knows? But that wasn't the point. I wanted out, and I felt the time was right. The longer I waited, the more difficult it would get. For both of us.
(Interestingly, when Little Man was at nursery, he was soother-less all day, from 9 to 5… until he came home and realised it was there. And I would give in. MISTAKE NUMBER FOUR. I should not have given in. Period.)
Two of Little Man's most favourite things – his teddy and his soother
As much as I wanted to see it go, I knew cold turkey wasn't the way to go with Little Man. He was too attached to it. Besides, he's a resilient toddler, and will not give up or give in easily. And oh boy is he loud when he cries! So I resorted to another popular tried-and-tested method of giving up the soother – making it taste horrible so that he gives it up himself. So one fine evening when he asked for it, I dipped it in a generous helping of vinegar and offered it to him. The resulting face he made will be etched in my memory forever… it was a mix of shock, disgust, wtf was that? and a couple other unexplainable feelings all in one. Of course my husband and I were expecting it, but it was still priceless. So as our poor son was trying to figure out what the hell just happened, we
walked ran into the other room and burst out laughing (mean mommy and mean daddy alert). But we couldn't help it and we couldn't laugh in front of him – after all, we had to pretend nothing was wrong!
And for the first time, Little Man threw his soother out of his mouth and said: 'I don't want it mummy'. He then howled as the vinegar (and the realisation of what had happened) sunk in. But it was the start of something good…
I told him – and he believed – that whenever he asked for the soother during playtime or awake time, it would be 'yuck'. He could, however, take it to nap/sleep. It took a few days, but it was working. Sometimes, there would be tantrums, but one sniff of the vinegar-coated soother and all would be well. He never ever put it in his mouth without smelling it first. He also believed (I made him believe) that it wasn't me who was denying it to him, it was the soother that knew it wasn't bedtime yet. (I'm a genius, right?!)
As expected, Little (clever) Man often tried to do a one-up on me, telling me he was 'sooo tired' and 'wanted to go to bed' when it was only 6 pm! He has NEVER gone to bed at 6 pm. Ever. Or making those 'peeees mummy peeeees' requests which tend to melt your heart. But I was on a mission and I wasn't having any of it.
The vinegar was doing its trick but now I had to move on to the next – and final – stage. Of getting him off it completely. And not taking it to bed with him. I thought long and hard about my next plan of action because this stage was the most crucial – and difficult – for both of us. There would be no 'later', no expectation of the soother later, and nothing to pacify his tears and my sanity. I almost settled on continuing with the vinegar trick, thinking I would give him the 'yuck' soother at bedtime too. But something told me that would be a looooong, drawn-out process.
So I decided to simply chop it off! The end. No turning back after that. My husband and I prepped him for what was coming, by telling him that soon his soother would get too small for him and fall off, and then we'd have to throw it in the garbage so the garbage truck (he LOVES garbage trucks) could take it away. We even told him we'll have a good-bye party for his soother, with cake!
So I chose a day when I was relatively stress-free (read: ready to battle the tantrums and whining), and when Little Man asked for his soother, I offered him an almost-chopped one. He looked at it, tried putting it in his mouth but it promptly fell off, and then tried again. Then let out a whimper. I put on my best drama drape and made a big deal of the fact that his soother had finally broken, which meant he was a 'big boy' now! Though Little Man didn't seem too impressed at first, he – to my utter surprise – didn't howl or throw a tantrum. Just continued to whimper for a bit, attempting to make it stay in his mouth, but then soon got distracted with his toys and the television.
That afternoon, he napped without it, which I thought that was a HUGE achievement. Still no major TANTRUM so I just expected it at bedtime. Or the next day. Bedtime came and went – sootherless – and the second non-soother day dawned upon us. I was ready for battle – the meltdown had to be today, I thought. But zilch. A few requests, but that was it. I hadn't felt relief like that since a while. And excitement. It was a huge hurdle to cross – for me at least – and it wasn't half as bad as I expected.
The next few days were a bit up and down. There were times when Little Man was tired/ cranky/ irritable, and kept asking for it, but I was like a rock. I wasn't budging. No way, not after such brilliant progress. Besides, I had thrown them all away (lest I give in in a moment of weakness!). I was even brave enough to leave the house for an all-day outing without it. I had tasted freedom and it was GOOD!
We're almost a month without it now, and Little Man is fine. He still asks me for it sometimes, but I remind him how it tasted yuck and became small for him, and that the garbage truck took it away. In fact, when he sees other babies/ toddlers with one, he laughs and tells me: 'That baby has a soother'…
Oh, and we never had that farewell party with the cake, because Little Man didn't even remember!
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Read 'The Soother Saga – Part II' for Tried-and-Tested tips for weaning toddlers off the dummy
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