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My 5-year-old refuses to give up her pacifier.
Q: My daughter will be 5 soon and will not give up her dummy. She gets totally emotional at the thought of it. I know it’s her comfort item but I think she needs to give it up, at least during the day.
A: Angela, you’re right that the dummy has become a source of comfort and a habit for your daughter. Most children give up the dummy by 1 or 2 years of age, as their need to suck decreases and they find other sources of comfort. However, some children continue to use a dummy or suck their thumb to age 5 and beyond.

It’s a good idea to encourage your daughter to give up the dummy. If she uses the dummy during the day, it can interfere with her engagement in activities at school, her communication, and her social skills. Other children may begin to tease her for being “a baby,” which could affect her self-esteem and developing relationships. In addition, continuing to suck a dummy or thumb during the day or night can interfere with the development of her teeth and jaw, and cause orthodontic and sometimes speech problems.

There are different strategies for giving up the dummy. Some parents choose to take away the dummy gradually, and others choose to take it away all at once. Here are some tips:
  • Discuss with her why it’s best to give up the dummy to help her be a “big girl,” make good friends, do fun things at school, and help her teeth grow right.

  • Try to remain as positive as possible to help her feel okay about the plan. Give her lots of praise, consider using a star chart, and have her figure out a reward for giving up the dummy.

  • Consider putting limits on when and where she uses the dummy, e.g., only in the house; only in her bedroom; or only at night. Taking away the dummy gradually can help her break her habit of using it throughout the day, and make it easier to give up altogether.

  • Consider using a needle to puncture a hole and let the air out of the dummy. The unfamiliar shape will no longer provide the same satisfaction.

  • Consider packing the dummy in a box to give away to a baby, and give her a “big girl” gift in exchange.

  • When your daughter asks for her dummy, make an effort to engage her in other positive ways instead. For example, give her a hug, talk with her, read a book, sing together, play a musical instrument, give her a snack, take her to the park, etc.
Whichever way you decide to take the dummy away, your daughter may initially protest, but she’ll be okay soon with your support.