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Will my 23-month-old give up the pacifier on his own?
Q: My son is 23 months old and is becoming very dependent on his dummy. I recently read an article that said when a child is between the ages of 2 and 4, they will give up the dummy on their own. Do you have any knowledge of this theory? What methods are used in giving up this habit? Is there any harm in keeping the dummy?
A: The “dummy” may well be the best-named item in the inventory of objects designed to keep babies—and their parents—in a peaceful state. Would that we had one for the Arab-Israeli conflict, or for the Balkan countries!

The value of a dummy is based on the infant’s need to suck. The sucking reflex is fully developed at birth, and the healthy infant begins to suckle vigorously as soon as put to the breast or given a bottle. The purpose of it is to allow the infant to be nourished, but, perhaps because it is always associated with our #1 reinforcer, food, it comes to have value on its own. Although all infants have a sucking reflex, it appears to be much stronger in some than in others. The easiest thing to suck on is something that is always available—the thumb. But fortunate indeed is the baby who is tricked—and that’s what it is—into sucking on something else. Because that baby probably won’t have his teeth pushed out of line, and the family won’t be subjected to the expense of orthodontistry, by long-term thumb-sucking. And it seems to be easier to give up the dummy than to give up the thumb.

So yes, Lisa, your son will probably abandon his dummy gradually within the next year. And you can restrict its use in increasing steps—only in the house, only in bed, only until you get over this cold, etc. And, if he is really resistant, you’ll get a lot of help from his friends. Because a boy who sucks a dummy much beyond three years is going to be in for a lot of hard teasing (from other kids who wish they still had one). And when that happens, you may well be instructed to throw it away.