Your parenting ship has entered smooth waters.
That baby who used to wake you up every hour is a now a relatively predictable toddler.
- He consistently sleeps through the night. (No? Do this.)
- He goes down for his daily nap without putting up much of a fight.
- He can be soothed when over-tired or upset during the day.
Now, I’m no wizard, but I bet if I put my fingers to my temples and think for just one second, I can guess one of the secrets to your recently found predictability: Your kid loves his pacifier.
And who can blame him?
Not only did that little binky soothe him right from the start, but it has also helped to keep your own sanity time and time again. It has become something you both equally rely on to get you through each day.
There’s just one problem. He can’t keep that pacifier forever. At some point in the very near future, you’re going to need to teach him to self-soothe without the aid of his beloved pacifier, and that, my friend, is no easy journey to navigate. Especially because you probably just got used to how smoothly you seem to be sailing.
Well, fear not. Thanks to some pediatric guidelines and expert suggestions, you don’t have to go into this transition blindly. And, what’s even better is that I’ve compiled all the best tips and information here, in hopes that you won’t have to look any further as you chart your course.
So let’s look at The When, The Why, and (most importantly) The How of getting rid of those pacifiers, shall we?
Pacifier Weaning Tip #1:
When You Should Wean
You probably did your research when you chose to give your sweet baby a pacifier in the first place, so it only makes sense to do the same in the conversation about when to throw it overboard.
The truth is, there is no exact right age to take away the pacifier, and you’ll need to take into consideration your child’s unique needs when you think this one through. As a helpful tool, let’s consider a few statistics from our most reputable sources:
- According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pacifier use beyond 2 to 4 years of age may affect mouth shape or how the teeth line up.
- In a related piece, the AAP suggests that you may want to start thinking about the weaning process when your child reaches one year of age.
- Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry notes that if children continue to use a pacifier past the age of 3, there might be some long-term oral health problems that come into play.
So, what do these age ranges mean for you?
Well, you probably want to start the weaning process closer to age 2, but you definitely want to be completely done with them by age 4.
Pro Tip: If you tackle this while he’s still confined to a crib, you may find the bedtime transition to be much less challenging. We waited until our oldest was in a big-girl bed and immediately had a jack-in-the-box sleeper on our hands. We weaned sooner with our next daughter and had far fewer problems.
Pacifier Weaning Tip #2:
Why You Should Wean
Of course you know you’ll have to take the pacifier away eventually. You don’t want to be sending a kid to middle school with a few extra pacifiers tucked in his backpack, after all.
That being said, I think it’s always helpful to know the exact “whys” especially in the midst of difficult transitions. Here’s what research tells us:
- Prolonged pacifier use can affect the shape of your child’s mouth and/or how the teeth line up.
- Pacifier use might be contributing to an increase in child ear infections.
- If your child is beginning to bite or chew on his pacifier, it becomes a choking hazard.
- Your child should be the one to decide when he needs his pacifier. If you’re giving it to him because it’s easier for you, it may be time to start thinking about breaking the habit.
Pacifier Weaning Tip #3:
How You Should Wean
It’s easy to know when and why you should wean your child off of her pacifier. It’s another thing entirely to figure out how to actually go about doing it, especially because you know it will inevitably stir up the smooth waters you’ve grown used to.
Before we look at some specific strategies to help your child say, “Goodbye,” to that beloved pacifier, let’s think about some general principles you’re going to want to keep in mind regardless of how you go about doing it:
- Stay positive. The AAP reminds us not to use harsh words, teasing, or punishment as a means to break this habit. Remain positive and encouraging throughout the process, and you’ll all be much happier.
- Communicate. Even if your child hasn’t developed a full vocabulary yet, don’t spring this change on her. Instead, talk to her about what is happening in the days and weeks before your take the pacifiers away. Explain why she can no longer use a pacifier and offer as much verbal praise as you can when she is successful.
- Make sure everyone is onboard. You need to be on the same page as all the other caregivers in your child’s life. Consistency is key in this transition. If your expectation is that she doesn’t use a pacifier anymore, then dad, grandma, and/or her daycare providers should follow this principle as well.
- Don’t relent. Once you make the decision to take the pacifier away, don’t give in and give it back. You will face a moment when you know you can stop her screams if you just pull the pacifiers back out, but remind yourself what future message you are sending your child. You don’t want her to think screaming is going to get her whatever she wants in the future, and an inconsistent approach to this process is only going to create confusion in her developing brain.
- Remember: There is not one right answer. You know your child. What worked for your sister’s kids might not be as effective for yours. Give yourself and your child grace as you work through this transition together.
Now, let’s think through some specific ways you could go about actually getting the pacifiers out of your house.
Take a Gradual Approach.
A complete cold turkey approach might work for some kids, but in most cases, you’re probably going to be more successful if your weaning process takes place gradually. Start by limiting pacifier use to the car or bed only. After a few weeks of self-soothing practice during the day, take the pacifiers out of the car. The final step, then, will be eliminating them at bedtime (which is when the rest of these strategies will probably best come into play).
Introduce a Replacement
Before you make the decision to get rid of the pacifiers, you might want to consider introducing some kind of lovey or replacement self-soothing item. In fact, you might have already done this. Once your baby is older than 4 months, you can introduce a small security blanket or stuffed animal for her to attach to. As you get closer to taking away the pacifiers for good, make sure to emphasize her relationship to the lovey!
Need some guidance picking out a lovey? Check out Certified Gentle Sleep Coach Heather’s best suggestions!
Turn it Into a Fun Event
The end of the pacifier doesn’t have to be a dreaded day. Instead, maybe your child would respond well if you build it up as something super fun.
- Take your child to Build-a-Bear and, as a final step in the building process, stick the pacifier in with the stuffing. That way she’ll still have it with her, just inside a different toy!
- Consider making the first day without pacifiers a day devoted to all his favorite things. Grab some froyo together or watch his favorite movie with some popcorn and his most important donkey pal.
- Say goodbye to the pacifiers together and then spend the day at the zoo or aquarium to celebrate the new milestone. You could replace the pacifiers with a beautiful, big girl crown for her to wear all day. If anyone asks, let her brag about her new step!
Invite the Paci Fairy Over
This is another fun way to help say goodbye to those pacifiers. On the day of the big event, grab a little basket (I heard the Paci Fairy is especially partial to these) and have your child go around the house collecting all her pacifiers. Then, leave the basket outside underneath a tree or by a window if the weather keeps you inside.
The next morning, when she races to the basket, she won’t find her pacifiers. Instead, she’ll read a note from the Paci Fairy praising her for being such a big girl, and she’ll also find a new stuffed animal for her to cuddle with at night.
Worried your little boy might not be as hyped about the Paci Fairy? Maybe the Paci Pirate visits your house instead and replaces those pacifiers with some buried treasure.
Involve Books (Because Books Make Everything Easier)
Speaking of books, those two aren’t your only options! Here are a few other children’s books that might help your child understand why he can’t keep his pacifier forever as you get the conversation started.
- Pacifiers Are Not Forever: This board book will help you put words to the upcoming change as well as focus on the positives that come along with saying, “Goodbye!” to the pacifier.
- No More Pacifier, Duck: This book will give your child someone to relate to because Little Duck has to give up his pacifiers, too.
- Bye-Bye Binky: Focus on the milestone of giving up the pacifier with this book that will talk to your child like the big kid he is.
- Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier: Your child will understand Bea’s reluctance to give up her pacifier and will love reading about how she gets to actually meet the Paci Fairy. (Have a boy? If you’d rather, you can buy the boy version about Ben instead!)
Utilize a Reward Chart
Positive incentives work well for many kids, and this option might be effective if you anticipate bedtime to be an especially difficult transition.
Think about what might be especially motivating for your child. A walk to your local ice shop? A visit to the children’s museum? A brand new fire truck?
Then, get a reward chart to hang in his room. Each morning, if he successfully slept the night before without his pacifier, give him a star and loads of verbal praise. If he fills up the chart for the week, celebrate with the specific reward he chose.
There are a lot of reward charts available for you to choose from. This is a pretty simple option that would work well, or you could chose something that he will continue to use into the preschool years.
Smooth Sailing Ahead
I cannot, of course, promise that you will enter these waters ahead without any tears.
This transition is likely going to be a hard one for your child (and you), so be prepared to offer lots of patience, encouragement, and hugs.
I can promise that you will make it to the other side, though. If you chart a steady course and put a solid plan in place, you will make it through the stormy seas of pacifier weaning and find smooth water once again.
You know, until the next major transition comes your way. *wink*
Have You Read These Yet?
- How to Survive (and Actually Enjoy) the Toddler Years
- Your Second Child: 7 Important Steps to Help Your OLD Baby Love Your NEW Baby
- Is My Baby Behind? The 5 Steps You Need to Take Now to Find Out
- Everything a New Mama Warrior Needs to Know About Baby Care
- How Do You Get Your Toddler Eating Healthy Food? Like This.
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Molly is the mom of three kids under the age of four and the wife of a busy (and extremely handsome) resident doctor. Mostly though, she’s a particularly average person just trying to live each day well. She spends most of her days perfecting the messy bun, drinking all the coffee, and observing every piece of beauty she can find in the mundane. Read more about Molly in her full bio here.