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  • Annika Brindley

When and How to Ditch Your Kids Pacifier!




Do you have a little one who uses a Pacifier?


Perhaps you call it a Binky, Dummy, Wubby, Nuk-Nuk, Chubby, Bo-Bo, or Plugger? No matter what you call it, you have probably wondered when to get rid of it. It is a tricky question: one that has many tricky answers.


Some parents are adamant about weaning their child off of a paci as soon as possible, while others believe there is no set age and it's up to the child to decide. Some pediatric dentists will tell you to ditch the Binky at age two because of the effect it will have on your child's teeth and speech down the road.


I am sure you have wondered if you should ride the paci journey out and wait for your kid to stop on his own and if you do, will that day come the last day before he ventures off to college? The biggest question parents have is if they take the paci away, will their child's sleep fall apart? Will they not know how to self-soothe; Is the beauty of a great sleeper going to go down the drain?


There's no right answer to this question since every kid is different, and every parent is too! If you sucked your Wubby until age eight, you will probably be more lenient and tolerant of your child doing the same thing that you did as a kid. I mean, you turned out fine, right? So you may not feel the need to change anything. Maybe your parents did not take the lead on getting rid of your paci and you found that you could not stop on your own. You wanted to but needed guidance, and could not set that boundary yourself.


Some kids may stop using a pacifier on their own around age 2 or 3, while others may use it for much longer. However, most kids don't quit on their own unless they are much older, and peer-pressure takes over, and sucking a paci at a sleepover becomes a social no-no. Your child needs you to help them through the change and the process of saying goodbye to an exceptional friend; a love.


Choosing when to end the binky-love relationship depends on your current life circumstances. Before you take the plunge into the unknown, assess what is going on in everyone's lives in the family. ASk yourself if it is a good time when you can truly follow through with your plan? Can everyone in the house follow the no-paci rules? Is it too hard of a time to ask your child to give up their self-soothing tool because you are moving, starting a new school or a caregiver change?


When my son was two, I decided it was time for him to stop sucking his thumb. I picked a date to implement my "Stop the suck plan" However, these plans fell through. Two days before I was to implement my plan, I found out that my mother had been diagnosed with Leukemia. Needless to say that our lives turned upside-down overnight. My schedule shifted, and I began to travel back and forth from DC to NYC to care for her. I had to put my "stop-the-suck plan" on the back burner until I knew I had the emotional and physical strength to do so. It just was not the right time. I was gone more than I had ever been and sometimes without notice.


Ask yourself if it is a good time for all so you can make a firm decision and stick to it. Be realistic but remember that there is never a perfect time; like sleep training, there is always a reason to put it off. Get rid of the Binky when the least amount of stress is happening in all of your lives.


Undoubtedly, it is much easier to wean your child off the pacifier when they are young and still sleeping in a crib. Seep training is easier in a crib because your child cannot get out of bed all night long! Why am I mentioning sleep training? Because you will be sleep-training again, and that is O.K. You will need to re-teach your child to fall asleep without sucking. He will find a new way to self-soothe.


Your child likely used a paci at an early age and learned that sleep came because he "sucked themselves to sleep". The pacifier and the sucking were your child's sleep crutch. He needed the pacifier to fall asleep and, therefore, to fall back to sleep, which is why you may have sprinkled 5 or 6 pacifiers in your child's crib every night; to ensure that he had one.


A sleep crutch is a habit that forms around sleep when you do something repeatedly until it becomes an automatic behavior. These repetitive behavioral patterns become etched deep into our neural pathways. Our habitual behaviors then become unconscious actions. Sleep crutches are not harmful, as long as your child can re-create the crutch or habit without you.


The longer the habit, the more the habit will be a challenge to break. There is a difference between a year-long habit and a three-year long habit. If your child has been sucking a paci to sleep for three years, that habit has been baked in! Not only is your child dependent on sucking to sleep, but they are also very attached to their pacifier, much like a lovey. The paci is the love object.


The good news is that you and your child can break a habit. A habit can change when it is replaced by a new one consistently; it takes patience, time, consistency and faith.


Many parents tell me their plan failed; they caved and returned to the pacifier. They had two hard nights and could not follow through. Yes, it can be a challenge. I have heard of parents who gathered all their child's Binkys together and told their kid that the "Pacifier Fairy" was coming to take themand give them to all the new babies in the hospital. That may sound like a fun story, and ometimes a child can get behind an idea like that; however, when it is time to go to sleep, that idea sounds terrible. It is one thing to think about something and another to do it. Besides, we don't want kids to resent cute little newborn babies who stole their pacis!


I advise a more straightforward approach. Telling your child the truth is an excellent place to start. Your child can handle the truth more than you think they can. They may not like it, but they can learn to sleep and self-soothe without a paci. It takes time and consistency, just as when you first sleep-trained your baby. Its a decision and you need to stick to it.


Once you've established that your child needs to toss the Binky, figure out when is the best time to start. I would talk to your child during the day. You can say, "You have been doing such a good job having your paci at night and for naps. Its time to snuggle a special stuffed animal instead of having a paci. We know you can do it and we are going to help you!".


When bedtime rolls around, your child may cry, be resistant and need guidance on how he can soothe in other ways. Take away the pacifier when you're confident you can stick to your plan if it gets tricky. All of you may get less sleep over the next week or two. You can do a few simple things to prep for this moment.


Here are some steps to help you wean your child off of the pacifier:


  • Start by limiting the time your child can use the pacifier. Curb daytime usage. Limit pacifier use to bed, nap time, and a long car rides if needed.


  • Have your child put his pacifier in a special little box, just for the paci, in the morning. The box will go away during the day and come out for the bedtime routine.


  • Discuss with your child why they might not need the pacifier anymore. They need to understand why they need to give it up. You can talk to them about what the dentist said and that it is a healthier choice to not suck one as they get older.


  • Substitute other items for the paci a few months in advance. Introduce a stuffed animal your child can sleep with that can be special. This way your child has something to love that they have already attached to. You can also tell your child that you believe in them and know they can do it. It often helps to say that you will check on them until they fall asleep. You can do checks in intervals.


  • Be clear about what day is their "last pacifier day"; you can even ask them to choose between three different start days; this will allow them to feel that they have some control over the situation.


  • If your kid is older, ask them to come up with three ideas they think will help when the paci is gone. Believe it or not, if they come up with just three ideas, they are more likely to follow the plan with your help.


I hope that providing helpful tips and a timeline for the big paci removal day can help you feel confident in starting this process. Remember, it will take patience and consistency, but eventually, your child will stop using their pacifier altogether and discover a new way to self-soothe and of course; sleep.