A pacifier can be a lifesaver when you have a young child—until the time comes to take it away. Weaning a child off a pacifier can come with tears and tantrums. For the best way to help your kiddo let go (literally), we connected with Dr. Mansi Lalwani, a DFWChild Mom-Approved pediatrician with Baylor Scott & White Family Health Center – Mesquite.
DFWChild: What’s the right age to transition a child off a pacifier?
Dr. Mansi Lalwani: The American Academy of Pediatrics does not have an official recommended age for weaning off the pacifier; however, it’s best to wean at any point between 1 and 3 years. Doing it closer to their first birthday is better, since their sucking habit hasn’t been reinforced in their brain for too long.
Babies develop object permanence between about 9 and 12 months, which means they become attached to objects and can remember they want them even when they can’t see them. This makes it much harder to get rid of things like pacifiers after a year.
If your child sucks strongly on a pacifier or his thumb or fingers beyond 2 to 4 years of age, this behavior may affect the shape of his mouth or how his teeth are lining up.
C: Do you recommend letting kids know in advance?
ML: Yes, definitely. This helps the weaning since the kids are prepared. Keep the message short and simple. Do not give long explanations since the toddler brain cannot process them. A message such as, “We will be getting rid of your binky tomorrow, and I wanted to let you know” would be perfect.
C: Is cold turkey best?
ML: No method has been noted to be superior to the other. You can go cold turkey with the pacifier. You can also use a reward system, cut a hole in the pacifier so it no longer provides suction and the child won’t want to use it anymore, or have the “paci fairy” come and take the paci and leave a present.
C: How should parents handle it when their child is crying and throwing a fit for the pacifier?
ML: Here are some things that may help:
– Stand firm in your approach. If you give in to the crying, then it’s going to be harder to get rid of the pacifier.
– Distract your child.
– Offer an alternative such as blanket or a toy for comfort.
– The older kids can be taught deep breathing.
– Keep your calm and validate your child’s feelings. Let them know you realize this is hard for them, but it is something that needs to be done.
– Do not use harsh words or punishment, as this may upset your child and is not an effective way to get rid of habits. Praise them when they do not use their pacifier or suck their thumb.
C: How long does it usually take for that type of behavior to pass?
ML: It may take a few days to weeks for this to pass and the child to either forget about the pacifier or find something else to comfort themselves with.
C: What other tips and tricks can you suggest?
ML: As a first step in dealing with your child’s pacifier habits, ignore them. Most often, they will stop on their own. If you do need to take the pacifier away, there are plenty of board books out there that you can read with your child to prepare them for it.
Star charts, daily rewards and gentle reminders, especially during the day, are also very helpful. If your child uses sucking to relieve boredom, keep her hands busy or distract her with things she finds fun. No matter what method you try, be sure to explain it to your child. If it makes your child afraid or tense, stop at once.