When Should My Child Stop Using a Pacifier?
One of the biggest struggles parents with young children have is how to stop the pacifier. Opinions differ on what age you should look to eliminate the pacifier as a coping strategy for your child. Experts on the stricter side advise that pacifier use should be discouraged around one year of age. (Whoa. My kids don’t use pacifiers – one is a finger sucker and the other a ‘lovey’ sucker – but I can imagine that trying to withhold a pacifier at one year of age will NOT go over well for most babies.)
More lenient experts will say that as your child ages, he or she will develop more advanced strategies to cope with stress. This begins by age 2 and most children will eventually drop use of the pacifier on their own – somewhere between the ages of 3 and 4. Waiting beyond the age of 4 is problematic as adult teeth start coming in and dental problems may result.
What’s the Best Method for Eliminating the Pacifier?
For those of you that aren’t so lucky (or are looking to eliminate pacifier use before your child gives it up) there are different methods you may use. Here’s a list of ideas – choose the one that will work best for your family.
Option 1: The Three Day Plan (or the “Cold Turkey” approach)
Day 1: In the morning and evening, tell your child you can see that she’s growing up and wants to do things that make her older. Tell her that in three days it will be time to give up her pacifiers (don’t make it sound like you are asking permission). Encourage her by telling her that you know she can do it and you’ll be there to help her so you’ll do it together. Don’t make the conversation too long – 30 seconds is sufficient. If your child expresses an opinion, you can reflect it (“I know you don’t want to”) but end it there.
Day 2: In the morning and evening, repeat the talk, indicating that tomorrow is the day she’ll stop using pacifiers. Again, keep the talk short and very matter of fact.
Day 3: Remind your child that it’s time to gather up her pacifiers. Ask your child if she’d like to help by making a game out of it, like a scavenger hunt. Place the pacifiers in a plastic bag and place them on the porch for the recycling truck to pick up and make them into toys. Your child may receive the news better this way than if you throw them in the trash. Expect a meltdown and be sympathetic, but firm. Experts say most children will get over the loss of their beloved pacifier within 48 hours.
Soothe your child in other ways when removing the pacifier. For younger babies, additional rocking and swinging may be helpful. For older babies, small blankets, loveys or a stuffed animal to snuggle may provide the comfort your baby needs to see them through this transition.
A variation on this approach is to ‘trade in’ your child’s pacifiers. Gather them up and take them with your child to the toy store. Allow your child to pick out a toy and ‘pay’ for the toy by giving the pacifiers to the clerk at the checkout counter.
Option 2: The Gradual Approach
Start by eliminating the pacifier when your child is not in stressful situations. The best times are when your child is home, happy and playing. Next, eliminate pacifier use outside of your home. Tell your child simply that, “the pacifier doesn’t leave the house.” Don’t complicate it – the simpler the better. The next step is to tell your child the pacifier doesn’t leave the crib. The next step is the most difficult. Many parents choose to use a ‘binky fairy’ or tell their children that Santa takes their binkies back to the North Pole to use them to make toys for other boys and girls.
Telling your child that Santa may bring her a special toy since she’s given him her binkies may help, but don’t be surprised if there are a few meltdowns even after your child’s special toy arrives. Rest assured your child will get used to the idea and find other ways to cope with stress. Again, just don’t give in!
Option 3: Make the Pacifier Unappealing
Dipping pacifiers in vinegar or lemon juice will make them unappealing to your baby and may expedite the weaning process. Some parents will gradually cut off the tip of the pacifier, which eventually eliminates the sucking power. Be advised that altering a pacifier may cause your child to chew on it and may make it a choking hazard.
There is also a pacifier weaning system on the market, called the Lily Method, which uses a series of five pacifiers to eventually eliminate your child’s desire for the pacifier. Each one has a nipple that is smaller than the previous one. In some cases, taking away your child’s pacifiers and switching them to this one is enough for them to lose interest. Otherwise, stepping them down to each smaller pacifier every day or so is usually enough to wean your child successfully in a few days.
- Keep it simple and clear. Long explanations are confusing to a small child. Think of it like ripping off a bandaid – the quicker you do it, the less painful it is. Tell your child the pacifiers are gone. End of story – don’t linger on the topic or feel the need to explain the decision.
- Some sneaky children will hide pacifiers around the house. Make sure your child hasn’t done so, or you may find yourself having to remove the pacifiers more than once.
- Be ready for a few bumpy nights. It should take your child anywhere between one and five nights to get used to the idea of not having a pacifier.
- Whatever you do, don’t give in. Once you’ve gone down the road of eliminating the pacifier, stay the course. Giving in to your child’s tantrums will only reinforce that crying and meltdowns means they will get their way eventually. Stick with it and your child will be pacifier-free in no time. Good luck!
Have a suggestion for how to stop the pacifier?
Leave a comment below and tell us what worked best for your child.