The Why, The When, The How!
They will get through it and so will you!
I know there is a fear surrounding weaning of the pacifier. I feel we as parents rely on it just as much as our child. And thats normal and okay! However, when it’s time to wean, our anxiety kicks in: “They won’t be able to handle it!”, “They’re going to cry!”, “I’m not going to be able to handle it!”, “I’m going to cry!”. I’ll explore a variety of different options below.
I will ALWAYS put cold-turkey methods here, because sometimes it’s what works best. Short-lived tears from removal of a pacifier are not harmful to a child. They will get through it and so will you. Interestingly, some kids will surprise you and happily say goodbye to the pacifier!
After six months, I like to wean the pacifier to sleep time and limited circumstances by one years old, because removing a pacifier that is being used a lot after that age is much harder. When it’s limited use, the child is more likely to give it up easier. However, if they have become accustomed to using it frequently, the attachment will be stronger, and a more gradual approach may be needed.
Pacifiers are a useful soothing tool in the newborn and infant years, but extended use during times of play, vocalization, etc. can impact speech development and articulation as your child gets older. They can also impact the alignment of teeth, so dentists often recommend weaning the pacifier by three years of age. Additionally, from a developmental perspective, it’s a great soothing mechanism; but our older toddlers can be taught other coping skills where a pacifier will no longer be necessary.
With all of this, I personally recommend ideally weaning the pacifier off by two years of age with no later than 2.5 years.
Our Pacifier Weaning Experience
For Ryaan, we weaned it to sleep times, travel, illnesses, and moments where he just would not settle with other soothing tips at 7 months. It meant redirecting him when he fussed, it meant going outside for walks in the stroller, and it meant a lot of patience during those fussy moments. After 5 days, he became used to not need it all the time. Remember, as the child gets older; the harder these moments of training will become.
After one year, I started having him practice handing me the pacifier when he woke up from sleep. I would take it from him and say “You’re awake! Mommy is taking your pacifier since you’re awake!”
Eventually, around 15 months, he started handing me the pacifier himself when he woke up. At 19 months, we went cold turkey. We put him to sleep without it. He cried for less than 5 minutes and realized he could sleep without it and fell asleep. Had he kept crying, we would have chosen our sleep-training method of choice of check-ins to reassure him (Ferber method at this age is what we used).
My personal goal is to wean the pacifier by 2-2.5 years of age. Below is my personal recommendation:
- At 6 months: wean to naps, bedtime, illnesses, travel, and/or emergencies (where you have truly exhausted other activities and they need soothing). Use for sleep time or for emergencies like travel, illness, or when other soothing tips just really don’t help. For sleep, do not put it back in if they spit it out. You can use a sleep-training method or sleep-intervention method of your choice to teach them that they can sleep without it.
- After 6 months: try to minimize the use of the pacifier at communication times and play times so they can practice language and communication skills.
- After 18 months: wean with a method that works for you and the temperament of your child.
Earlier weaning is great too, but if they start to suck their thumb, then wait a little longer or try another method.
The How – Cold Turkey?
Deciding to go cold turkey for pacifier weaning, will depend on your comfort and the temperament of your child. Should you choose this method, be prepared that you may be surprised, where the child happily gives it up! However, it may also involve some tears for a few days. Verbally reassure them, get down to their level when they are sad and give them hugs, redirect them to other activities, verbally applaud their bravery, and teach breathing exercises when they are calm. I think cold turkey methods are wonderful when mixed with verbal affirmations and a loving touch. They ARE capable of doing it and sometimes verbal reassurance and redirection go a long way.
Cold Turkey Methods
- When they wake up, ask for them to give it to you. This can train them to remember that they no longer need it and ultimately give it up on their own.
- Throw it away and say “bye-bye.” Have them see you put it away and they can wave bye to it too!
- Have THEM throw it away/put it away and say or wave “bye-bye”: This makes them feel like they have control and it was their idea, which can mean less meltdowns.
Cold turkey methods will work with consistency. They WILL forget about it.
The How – Other Pacifier Weaning Approaches
Choose the pacifier weaning tip below that fits your child’s development
- Take them to Build-a-Bear and put their beloved pacifier inside:
- This provides them to always have the pacifier with them in the form of a new lovey item.
- Plant the pacifier in a garden:
- This was popular on social media. Plant the pacifier with them and tell them something exciting will be there in the morning. After they go to sleep, put flowers or balloons where the pacifier used to be. Watch them get excited seeing how their pacifier turned into magic!
- Use the “Pacifier Fairy”:
- Have them put the pacifier underneath their pillow or in their crib. During the middle of the night, replace it with a new lovey item.
- Throw a “bye-bye pacifier party”:
- Celebrate them being a big kid now and have a celebration to remind them how proud they should be of themselves for no longer needing the pacifier.
- Mail it to newborns in the hospital or give it to a baby:
- You don’t actually have to mail it. BUT, allow them to go through the whole process of putting it in a box, writing a letter, and putting it outside for the mail-person to take.
Remember, removal of a pacifier in the toddler years is NOT a bad thing. There may be tears, so it’s important to consider the options that work for you and your child. If there are tears, remember these tears are not harmful and they can be met with compassion, understanding, and redirection. They WILL handle life without a pacifier and so will you.
Be patient, consistent, and persistent with whatever method you choose!
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