Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Whether it be the thumb, the fingers, a dummy, a soft toy or a muslin, curling or eating their hair, our wee ones get attached and hard to things. Sometimes not being able to function without them. I remember a windy wet afternoon spent in a shopping mall carpark hunting for my baby sister's well worn bit of a sheep skin rug that she could not live without. It was not found and a tough night ( s ) were had by all until a new one that had been washed and broken in suitably.
This is every parents nightmare, and dream, as when they do attach to something , they calm or sleep or what ever. But when they lose it or its time to give it up , it can be the hardest thing in the world. But it does depend on the circumstances. Time to give up the thumb or dummy is necessary for speech and tooth development , time to give up the pillowcase or doll, well thats debatable. If they want to keep it but don't need it then thats a good thing.
I have some tired and true experience on handling attachments
Buy multiple. - if it's a material ( literally made of material ) thing, say a blankie, doll , teddy , and you have found that it get trailed every where, best to invest in a few. Even if it one for the car or one for grandma's etc. There is nothing worse than it getting mislaid and nothing else will do. I had one wee one that reluctantly agreed to let me wash teddy every so often and would sit watching it wash and wait right by the dryer ( no line of this one , it had to be as fast as possible ) for it to become available again. With the ease of Amazon and eBay now, getting few or in worst case scenario a replacement is easier these days but best to have a reserve ( not just on the auctions as finding that one teddy that went out of production and is now a collector item can get expensive ! ) I have found that you can switch them out for washing, or repair. You can have one sitting in a cupboard tucked away for another day if needed. If it is a blanket and big enough , I have found cutting it in half or more and edging the hem to make several, is great . Although my now 16 tells me of the time he came home and his blanket was in quarters, all hemmed with blue satin ribbon ( it was the silky ribbon he had to hold on to go to sleep not the actual blanket ) still haunts him to this day. He is kidding ( I hope ), the threadbare blanket was falling to pieces and thanks to me saving a piece he still sleeps with it now ( under his pillow of course ) I have found that after the blanket affair , I try to encourage my wee ones, be it in a job or my own to imprint on something common as such. My favourite and theirs too is a muslin. Soft, multiple, easy to wash and carry and find at all times. This was so successful that I had to get individual meemee's for one set of children , dying one pink and the other blue. The only colours that would hold, not gender stereotype based . This was before designer ones with nice patterns on them came out. Yes, Ive been in the game that long !
Set a time limit - this is only with something that is attached or needs to be removed from ones person as it can cause lasting effects . Like them sucking fingers , thumbs, dummy or hair. I speak from personal expense and experience , when I say sucking ones fingers can have detrimental affect in later years . Think tooth removal so to have painful braces to put teeth back in to place as I had pushed them so far out at the front I could eat an apple through a tennis racquet ! As soothing as sucking a thumb/ fingers can be, it can damage nail beds, slur words and hinder speech development and jaw growth and teeth displacement. Sucking a dummy is not really any better, but I, as most parents figured, we can nicely remove the dummy , we can't remove the digits ! Sucking on hair ( usually in older children ) can have an effect on their stomach and bowels as they swallow parts of chew hair and it collects in the body and children can't bring up a hair ball neither pass it and sometimes need it surgically removed.
Thats all the negatives, now heres how to counter them. Thumbs and fingers are the hardest as said, to break the habit , they are attached and it's the go to even in the womb. But try to help them to find comfort in other things so as to swap the security feeling to that object instead. You may have to be a wee bit harsh and use a deterrent , such as gloves, and or nail vanish that tastes horrible. Maybe introduce a dummy if you see them swaying towards sucking a thumb.
There are many ways to removing the dummy when you feel it has run its course. The most effective way, I have found is to phase it out, if they are spitting it out once asleep , then they don't need it to sleep the night. So go in and either take out of mouth sooner, take out of bed once discarded. Don't give it unless truly needed in daylight hours. So day sleeps are without and soon night sleeps will be too. I have found if they only have it as bed time binky, its easier to phase it out. You could do what my sister did as her wee one would lose the dummy and cry out so she had 6 scattered around the cot , each tied with short ribbon so they did not fall out, he was able to reach around and find one , self settling in the process. But a very short ribbon as not to be able to strangle himself in any way. Only when she found him in his room with one of the attached dummies being sucked on the outside of the cot, did they move to the below idea of giving them away !
This can only be achieved , once they have communication. I have found it works best when another sibling is on the way or they know a smaller child. I give it to the babies. Most children want to feel grown up and in control very quickly in their lives. So I make a song and dance about rounding up the dummies and baby things, such as bottles if they are still on one. And wrapping them up with the help of your wee one. Them being part of the process is the most vital part !!!!!! We address the parcel to the Binky fairies, other babies, dummy land what ever works ....... And send it off. Like a graduation of your child from baby to big person. They feel , they have made the decision and choice, they have transitioned in their mind with a lot of encouragement and praise from you.
Hair sucking is a different matter, I have found be it your hair or their own , it's a stimulation thing rather than comfort as such. They like the feel of the hair on their face. I got around this by giving the wee one a clean unused but extremely soft make up brush so she could stroke her face when she was anxious. She had it in bed with her and it worked great as her hand would get tired and she would fall asleep. She used to watch a movie before bed time stroking her face to relax. No more hair sucking !
For the material things mentioned above , I don't see why you need to remove at all. And in my experience your child will phase it out with positive peer pressure themselves, choosing to leave said item behind or in bed to be snuggled with later. They literally grow out of it on their own. Maybe it's because I still have my teddy bear from when I was young who now sits watching over my wee one from the shelf. I find comfort in knowing he is chasing away her nightmares instead.
Now for the science bit.
It all goes in the mouth - As pointed out above, most children grow out of it, having to put something in their mouth or touch something close it. You will find even the muslins/ teddies are slept with close to the face. This phase of development only lasts so long. Freud coined it the oral stages ( which moves on to the aptly named anal stage ). Oral is everything has to be discovered through the mouth . Babies know food comes that way and they trust it. Milk and bottles are life when they are little and administered through their mouths. So when they find new things , they experience it through their tongue. Every parent knows , everything goes in the mouth , get licked, chewed, spit on, including us ! Children test out things they can trust by taste. But once they learn how to feel and see and suss items out by using their cognitive rather than motor skills this phase passes. The anal phase is them moving from us teaching them to them discovering things for themselves, like their bodies. Their brains are able to label things from sight and touch. Freud notice children go from being preoccupied with what goes into their bodies to what comes out. But they are antiquated terms !! But these items that bring comfort from being chewed or sucked are deep seated in the brain and can be hard to replace. But every baby will do it and eventually grow out of it. So when they say , its just a phase , they mean it .
Also sucking on something is a natural predilection for babies hence the suckle instinct when feeding those first 6 months be it bottle or breast. So if you can introduce something for them to attach to and suck in times of need, you are encouraging this natural suck and swallow reflex and reducing the risk of SIDS in the process.
Forming attachments and finding comfort in something is a good thing. We do it right from the womb, sucking our thumbs or holding our own hands, and umbilical cord. It is in our nature as Freud would say. Once we are out, we need and find familiarity and safety in a smell , touch or taste of something. Be it a Mum giving her t shirt to Dad when she wants a night off sleep duty. To having the necessary items to sleep , my wee one needs music, a familiar muslin and at the moment her dummy ( which Im phasing out as teeth come in ). The world is a wonderful but overwhelming place for our wee ones. They are being bombarded with experiences and assaults of all their senses every minute the day and then sorting all that at night. So finding peace in something constant and familiar, I would not deny them in any way. It's completely up to you and your family what the special thing is , for how long they have it. Be it Linus and his blanket at school ( see peanuts reference) or a dummy for a wee while. To a specially choose character soft toy from a favourite movie or a treasured t shirt or pillow case that smells and feels just right. We all need our home comforts