Giving Up the Pacifier: How and When to Do It
Saying goodbye to the paci can be hard. Here’s help
Do it sooner During the first year of life, sucking on a pacifier has protective benefits—it may help reduce the risk of SIDS. But after 12 months, most experts agree that parents should begin to wean toddlers off the pacifier, says Eva Love, MD, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. Aim to limit the paci by age 2 and ditch it by 4 years, says Love. “After this point, pacifier use can result in an overbite, open bite or cross bite—any of which can affect chewing, speech and appearance and require orthodontics to correct,” she notes.
The earlier you can get rid of the paci, the easier it will be, says Melanie Potock, a speech language pathologist and co-author of Raising a Happy, Healthy Eater. “There’s a period of rapid cognitive growth around age two which results in your child realizing that she has a bit of control over you and your actions,” she explains. So when kids hit those (sometimes terrible) twos, they’re more likely to protest paci removal. For kids who are 3, the attachment is more emotional than physical, so your approach can be rather matter-of-fact (see ‘Discuss broken’, below).
Introduce substitutes Your tot may already have a special blanket or stuffed toy that she loves, but if not, bring one on board. “Start with something soft like a plush blanket or a toy that vibrates, and provide others for your child to chew on,” says Potock. Chewing in toddlerhood replaces the sucking your baby did when she was younger, but the input it provides to the brain is just as calming, she notes.
Discuss ‘broken’ The world’s an imperfect place where even pacifiers break down and need to retire. “Talk to your child about the idea of objects being broken,” says Potock. For example, if you find something that’s no longer working, such as a toy or marker, you can say, ‘It’s broken and I can’t fix it, so we have to throw it away.’ Keep talking about ‘broken’ as you go about your day and then when you’re ready, cut off the end of the paci. When you show your child, you can say ‘It’s broken’ and then toss it out together. (Note that a broken pacifier isn’t safe to keep as it may pose a choking hazard.)
Count it down You might consider the 3-day approach. “On the first day tell your child she’ll be giving up her pacifier soon,” says Love. Be brief (30 seconds) and then repeat it on day two, emphasizing that it’ll happen "tomorrow." On day three, gather up the pacis with your tot and together decide where they’ll go.
Limit usage Another method is to allow it only in certain places or specific times, explains Love. You might start by keeping the pacifier at home only and giving it up in the car or daycare. After a week or so, let your kid know that it can only be used in the crib at nap and bedtime.
Choose the ‘goodbye’ “Many parents recycle them, leave them for the ‘Binky fairy’ in exchange for a big kid gift or sew them inside a paci bear at home,” reports Love. Erin Farrell Talbot’s son Liam called his paci ‘Didi,’ so she told him about the Didi Fairy. “He gave it up when he was 3½ in exchange for a ‘big boy’ toy, with a remote control,” says the New York City mom.
Go cold turkey Yup, just like quickly ripping off a bandage, taking the pacifier away—and never looking back—is perfectly okay. And sometimes, it’s the only thing that works. “I tried losing it and also waiting for longer stretches before giving it to Ben, but the only method that worked was to throw them away all at once,” says Summer Blackhurst, a mom of three in Kaysville, UT. Ben had one major tantrum and a couple of minor ones over the next few days—and then it was over. Regardless of the method you choose, stick to your guns, urges Love. “Don’t give in, even if your child cries, screams and yells. Remain firm and know that, like all major transitions, this too shall pass.”
Parenting advice is given as a suggestion only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider.