Part of helping your little one with any transition is about feeling confident as a parent. Here are some tips to help with taking that first step to becoming soother free.
Soothing and sucking are natural and healthy for a child, and some babies can become attached to their soother. It can sometimes feel like this stage will never end, but evidence shows that even if you do nothing, your little one will eventually stop needing it. If you have any worries about your child’s development or need for comfort, then check with your Health Visitor or GP - just to rule out any doubts.
- Baby steps and finding the right way
There are many different ways to say good bye to a soother, and all can be successful! Many parents report giving up the soother was much easier than they thought. You need to find the right approach for your little one, and take age, stage and temperament into account. See How do I find the best method for becoming soother free? And remember - take one step at a time and you will find the best way.
Take a moment to check how you are feeling. Each stage a baby goes through is a step away from us as parents and that sweet baby they were. It is normal to feel a bit wobbly or sad. Make sure you have enough support and time out for yourself. On a practical level, check this is the right time. For example, is it going to be stressful at a certain event or family occasion if your child does not have their soother? Make sure you talk things through with a supportive friend or relative (out of ear shot of little one).
Toddlers respond best to change when it is introduced in a playful way. Using a story, pictures and laughter will engage your child. Take time to engage your child’s imagination using visual (puppets, pictures, paints) or auditory games and activities (such as rhymes, songs or stories).The Nutty, Nity and Nelly story is one example of a little rhyme to help with language development and tap into your child’s imagination. This will mean your child will associate letting go of the soother with happiness and fun.
You may find your little one is carefree and excited or they may be a bit emotional about letting go of the soother. If they seem sad or reluctant then this is a good chance to acknowledge how they feel, and explain the reasoning behind the decision. For example, "You feel sad, of course let’s have a hug" then, "You will be a big kids soon and you won’t need the soother anymore". As long as they keep showing they are feeling wobbly emotionally, keep acknowledging their feelings.Then, each time gently return to the logical reason for giving up the soother.
- Help your child feel in control
Poor things; we decide where they go, what they do, who with, what they eat and when they sleep. No wonder they have a furious tantrum every now and then! Your toddler will need to feel they are making the choices. Let them choose which night or time of day they give up their soother, what picture to have on their star chart or what present they would like to get as a "thank you" when they give up the soother.They are little changes for us, but the difference between feeling powerful or powerless to them.
When the time is right for becoming soother free, and your little one has helped make decisions, show them that you are 100% positive about this change. Make sure you are calm and clear and confident in your communication. It is exciting that they can now be brave and take a step away from the baby stage. Language is great for shaping expectations. For example, tell them when it is a particular day then they will say goodbye to the soother and when they leave out the soother then the Nelly will leave a little present to say thank you.
This is a lovely opportunity for praise and helping your little one take pride in their development from baby to young child. If you are using a chart, mark the stars or stickers with a generous helping of praise. Whatever approach you use, recognise and show joy that they are being brave and kind to give up their soother. You can tell them they are becoming clever and grown up with each step they take.
Dr Kerry Taylor, Parent Infant Clinical Psychologist