If you have ever observed a full-blown temper tantrum because you have forgotten to bring your child's pacifier, you know how attached kids become to their beloved binkies. Pacifiers may have a thousand names, but their value is the same: they provide comfort to infants and toddlers.
When to Wean
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that pacifier use be limited after 6 months of age to reduce the risk of ear infections. According to the American Dental Association, pacifier use should be actively discouraged after 4 years of age, since it can cause dental problems.
Reasons to Wean
Using a pacifier during the early years of tooth development can cause the upper teeth to be misaligned. It can also cause changes in the roof of the mouth.
Social and Language Development
There are social problems that come with constant pacifier use. For example, babies whose mouths are constantly occupied with pacifiers may not smile or laugh as freely, or explore playthings and experiment with sounds the way they would if their mouths were free.
Pacifier use has been linked to an increase in ear infections in toddlers. If your child cannot hear well, it is possible that he or she will also have trouble learning to speak well.
How to Wean Gently
Tips for weaning include:
Follow your child's lead and do not push the issue. Start with naptimes and gradually work up to a full day and night. Bedtime is usually the most difficult time for children, since most kids want their pacifier for comfort at night.
Break the habit by substituting a more productive one. For instance, have your child trade in the pacifier for a special toy or play activity. It may also help your child to spend time around other children who have successfully given up the pacifier. Children like to imitate, so playmates can be great role models.
Try reward charts.
Stars or other special stickers work well. There are also books that you can read to your child about children who have given up their pacifier. If your child enjoys books, this is a great opportunity to teach by example.
Promote good habits.
Small rewards and plenty of hugs and reassurance will help. A new toy, such as a stuffed animal or pillow, can help, particularly if it offers comfort.
Do not get impatient and give up. Your child learns by your example, so you need to be persistent to help them be successful. Enlist the support of other parents who have already been through the same experience.
Choose a weaning time carefully.
Be careful about when you choose to wean. For example, do not decide to take the pacifier away if your child is sick or is already experiencing another life change, such as moving to a new house, attending preschool for the first time, or the addition of a sibling to the family.
What to Avoid
There are some things you should try to avoid during the weaning process. For example, never use threats, punishment, or shaming messages. These tactics will only cause your child to cling even more tightly to the pacifier.
Do not give the pacifier back after you've taken it away. It can be tempting to give in during the middle of the night, especially if you are feeling deprived of sleep, but this will only confuse your child. Your child will begin to wonder and try to do what needs to be done to get the pacifier back. This may result in screaming, tantrums, or throwing toys.
Quitting Cold Turkey
Some parents find the "cold turkey" method to be most effective.
"Our son cried briefly for 2-3 nights when we took this approach, but by the fourth night, he seemed to forget all about his pacifier," says Susan, a mom from Atlanta. "While the first few nights were challenging, this technique worked best for us."
Finding What Works for Your Child
Remember that what works for one child may not be work for another. Children are unique individuals, with different needs, challenges, and fears. Talk to your child's pediatrician before attempting the weaning process. Most pediatricians have their own philosophy about what is best for your child's personality and specific stage of development.
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
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Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 8/31/2015