Learning how and when to let go of the pacifier might be the first real conflict with your toddler. After all, babies have a sucking reflex they are born with that helps them eat and comfort themselves. Even though the process of removing a pacifier can seem like a challenge, there are tips and tricks to make the transition go smoothly for your family.
Every child is different, but many will stop sucking on their thumb or pacifier on their own with no parent involvement. Experts have varying opinions on when to remove a pacifier, but in general, if your child doesn’t show signs of stopping, it is recommended to start weaning around 12-18 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Practice recommend reducing or stopping pacifiers early, since there is research that pacifier use beyond 12 months of age has the potential to increase the risk of ear infections in some children. This is a discussion worth having with your pediatrician.
Using a Pacifier for Too Long: What Can Happen?
Using a pacifier past the age of 18 months can start to affect a child’s dental health. Frequent use of a pacifier or vigorous thumb sucking will change the way the teeth bite together, increase the chances of crooked teeth, and change how the jaw is aligned. The earlier a child can shake their sucking habit, the better! This is why the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends reducing pacifier use and thumb sucking by 18 months of age.
How Can We Break the Habit?
Finding what works for your child is the key. Some suggestions include:
Offer a “lovey” alternative to their pacifier, like a safe stuffed toy or soft blanket.
Give them the chance to pick out a new toy to replace their pacifier.
Limit when they are allowed to use it. Reserve the pacifier for bedtime only or let your child know they can only use it in their bedroom.
If you choose to go “cold turkey,” remove all the pacifiers from the house. It will be much easier for your child to quit the habit if they are not able to find their pacifier.
Use the help of some imaginary friends! Many parents will use a ‘Binky Fairy’ to help their kids handle the transition easier. This follows the tradition of the Tooth Fairy by leaving the pacifier out in the house and the next morning it will be gone, replaced with a special treat.
Prepare your kiddos to say goodbye with a “Goodbye, Pacifier!” party. Make their taking this step towards growing up something to celebrate.
Reward and praise your child for removing their pacifier. A little praise goes a long way!
The process of taking your little ones off their pacifier may seem long and difficult. Expect some tears and challenging nap times but remember to stay strong. Soon they won’t even think about their pacifier.
Speak to your pediatrician if you have more questions about weaning your child off of a pacifier.
Emily Decker, MD, is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Urgent Care and Primary Care Clinics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She has a strong interest in child advocacy, and serves as the medical director for CAP4Kids Columbus.
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