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Goodbye, Pacifier, Goodbye

Goodbye, Pacifier, Goodbye

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ve enjoyed reading your column and pregnancy calendar since before my son was born, and I’m hoping you have some sage advice in how to wean my very-nearly-3 year old of his pacifier. You’d think it would be relatively simple, but I’m seriously dreading it.

He’s used them since he was a week old. As a baby he was a terrible sleeper that wouldn’t sleep through the night until almost a year. In that time, the sleep deprivation turned me into such a monster, I could barely recognize myself. So even now that he’s 3, I’m wary of changing anything that might interrupt his (and my) sleep. He needs the pacifier to fall asleep at nap time, bedtime, or if we’re in the car for a long time. Without it, he won’t fall asleep at all, or he’ll cry. With it, he falls asleep almost immediately, but might wake up once a night if it’s fallen out of his mouth and he can’t find it. (This happened at 5 AM today, and when I couldn’t find it for him, he pretty much stayed awake talking to himself and keeping us up in the process.)

Other excuses I have for letting the pacifier usage continue: we just moved 1,000 miles away from the only home he knew and all his friends, immediately after which we immediately went on a 2 week trip, and then he started preschool. It didn’t seem fair to take away one of his major sources for comfort during all that upheaval.

But now he’s going to be 3 in a month, and it’s time. At the moment, I’ve pledged not to buy any more pacifiers (we’re down to 1 functional one anyway), and I’m hoping to finally get to taking it away by his birthday. I predict there are going to be lots and lots of tears and lost sleep for us all. I don’t want him to become distraught (seriously, you should see the face he makes when we mention a future without them. It’s the saddest thing ever) and I don’t want to become an overtired monster again (I’m currently pregnant with #2 so I’m already feeling a bit exhausted and grouchy anyway). Do you have any recommendations on making the process any easier for both of us?

Many many thanks,
Pacifier? I hardly know ‘er.

Cue my not-so-silent relief that none of my babies ever gave a rat’s ass about pacifiers past their first few weeks of life. The period of time when pacifiers are an objectively good, useful thing seems annoyingly short, as they quickly go from “yaaaayyy, he’s not crying anymore” to “I’m getting up to retrieve and reinsert a lost pacifier 10 times at night” to “crap, my kid has a lot of teeth and a wicked binky habit, NOW WHAT?”

You’re not alone, of course. Lots of parents have had to deal with a 3, 4 or even 5 year old who just never weaned from the habit on their own, like we all sort of dream and hope and assume will happen, much like the mythical self-potty-training toddler or the kid who just enjoys putting his toys away without being asked. You are also correct, of course, in that it is time for him to say goodbye to the pacifier.

Despite never having to tackle this particular problem myself (though I did have one blankie/thumbsucker type and utilized some of the tactics I’ll cover below), I have done a not-small amount of research and reading on the topic and can offer you a few of the most “popular” pacifier-weaning options:

This article from Parents.com details two different plans, a “3 Day Plan” and a more gradual, baby-step approach.

The three day plan basically accelerates your current  warnings that the paci is indeed going away and gives your child a set countdown. This allows him to be emotionally and psychologically prepared for the separation, without drawing it out the way you’re (unintentionally) doing now, as a vague threat of “someday your pacifier is going away forever but you have no idea when, so CLING TO IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT, CHILD!” If you decide to do this one, I would recommend: 1) dropping all pacifier weaning talk until you are actually ready to begin the weaning process, and 2) timing it so the “goodbye” day lands on something awesome and positive, like his birthday or birthday party day or special family outing that will keep him from feeling sad about it.

The gradual approach is similar to steps we took to minimize our son’s thumb sucking and blankie attachment. The pacifier DOES NOT leave his bed. It DOES NOT leave his room. No pacifier while watching TV or post-preschool calm-down period, no pacifier in the car, etc. etc.

This still doesn’t solve the issue of when to make the final, brutal leap to no pacifier, though there are plenty of creative ideas for that: The Binkie Fairy comes like the Tooth Fairy and trades toys for pacifiers. Santa or the dentist need big kids to give their old pacifiers to new babies, and if he donates his he’ll get a special treat or toy. Or take the pacifier to Build-A-Bear and have it sewn into the stuffing of a cuddly toy he can sleep with at night.

There are also plenty of books that talk about giving up the pacifier: Pacifiers Are Not Forever, The Paci Fairy, Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier, No More Pacifier For Piggy, and many, many more. There’s a Sesame Street/Elmo video on this as well. I do think, though, once you start presenting the idea that a pacifier is going away, it’s a good idea to have a set timeline that’s not overly prolonged or too abstract for your son to comprehend. Otherwise it just becomes this vague sense of existential terror that SOMEDAY SOMEONE is going to take his precious paci away and YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN. Either do the three-day plan or have a visual calendar/sticker chart for him to use.

The fact that you’ll soon have a new baby in the house will be an excellent opportunity to reframe the pacifier as a Baby Thing, but I completely understand if you’d rather have the pacifier problem over and done with before the new baby arrives and you run the risk of sibling jealousy/regression. But having the baby around might reassure him that giving up the pacifier was a good, big boy thing that he should feel proud about.

(For the record, if you do give the new baby a pacifier, aim to take it away no later than 12 months, basically the same time the bottle should go away. Developmentally, this is an optimal time to help a baby find other self-soothing options as they no longer NEED to suck for comfort or food. Behaviorally, a one year old is way, way easier to deal with than the stubborn, all-knowing rage of a three year old. I’ve heard of parents who snip the very tip off of pacifiers so it feels “wrong” to the baby and gets rejected somewhat naturally.  I’m guessing your son is old enough to know that new pacifiers come from the store, however, and the snipped one can be replaced.)

No matter what you do, however, recognize that he is probably going to cry. There will probably be a few rough nights. It’s basically sleep training him all over again, as he learns to fall asleep without his crutch. It’s probably going to suck and make you feel very sad and guilty and all that. But DO NOT GIVE IN. DO NOT TURN BACK. You CAN do this, and so can he.

Photo source: Cesar Astudillo

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Tricia

    Omg I dread dread DREAD the day we do this with my 18 month old. I’m pregnant with baby #2 and big brother is about to move into a new room. We’re torn about taking paci away at the same time or separating the two. Decisions, decisions.

  • Amie

    We just went through this with our almost 3yo daughter. She NEEDED it to sleep. We moved across the country, new house, new daycare, etc, then had a second baby all within a 3 month span. It felt so mean to take it after all that change, but we did it and she got over it. We talked about it for a couple of days, then told her that when she was ready to give it up, she could trade all her pacis for this bucket of awesome doll house accessories (which had originally been purchased as potty training bribes, guess how well that worked out). She decided that very night she wanted to trade, so we did. Ten minutes later she changed her mind, of course. We gave in that first time (MISTAKE!) mostly because we never expected her to go for it so soon. But then an hour later she started crying again, and when I went in she wanted to give me her paci again. So that time I took it, and we didn’t look back. It was a ROUGH 48 hours. She just couldn’t fall asleep without it. But by the third night she stopped asking for it and was able to eventually fall asleep. Naps took a little longer to fix, but I would say by two weeks she was completely back to normal. And now we’ve got her baby sister addicted to the paci as well, and big sister doesn’t seem to mind that the baby has one but she doesn’t. She’s constantly trying to shove it in her sister’s mouth, as a matter of fact 🙂

  • KimCS

    My almost 3 year old decided to give hers to the Easter Bunny in exchange for a special binky present. It went surprisingly well and without tears and she cuddled her new purple bear. Her friend had given his to Santa and got a present and her new brother had a binky, both which helped. Maybe a special Halloween switch would work? Also see if any of his new friends recently gave them up so they can talk.

  • Here is where I tell the tale of The Heroic Plumber. My cousin was about that age, loved his pacifier, was down to one. A plumber came to their house one day, and Toddler Cousin was fascinated with what he was doing and watched the whole time. On his way out the door, the plumber turned around, held out his hand, and said, “I’ll give you a quarter for that paci.”

    Cousin handed over the pacifier, took the quarter, and never asked about it again. The plumber has been a legend in family lore ever since.

    • Jenfromboston

      That is an awesome story!

    • alana

      This made me laugh!  

  • Jen

    My younger daughter was a terrible addict and had hers until she was a little over 3.5. She was a terrible sleeper and it was the only way she slept more than a small stretch of time. We started by eliminating walking around with it- it was for car and bed only. Then bed only. Then nighttime only. Then we talked up getting a present that she really, really wanted (new doll stroller) and also getting a prize at the dentist. So then she finally said she was ready, we collected as many as we had and brought them to the dentist, where she got to choose a prize. Then she got the new doll stroller. It was definitely rough for a couple of nights, and every once in a while for a long time she would cry for it at random times.
    Then it turns out that part of why she was reliant on it for sleeping is that she had silent reflux and needed her adenoid out. I think the paci made the reflux a little better, but she couldn’t articulate that. So it is worth checking other reasons for being a crappy sleeper.

  • Amy Renee

    We took my oldest sons binkies away cold turkey at 15 months, and he then switched to a wicked thumb sucking habit until he was 6 (and I’ve found it in his mouth occasionally still in the middle of the night now that he’s almost 8 but I think he does it when barely awoken only).
    With the second kid we decided not to tkr away so soon, although daycare managed to kick the habit there before 18 months, and we transitioned to a “only in the car and bed rule” then later “only in bed”. There were days when he decided he wanted to go to bed mid-morning just to have his Binky and we didn’t fight it.
    We started talking about binkies being for babies and he was s big boy as he got closer to 2, and then a few months after his second birthday he fell on his face and knocked his front teeth loose. He couldn’t use the binkies then, as it hurt too much – so those were a rough few nights with him in pain and with no Binky. His big brother had started receiving gifts from the tooth fairy, so we decided to offer up the Binky fairy. He asked for a yellow ball from the binky fairy, we packed up all the binkies and that was that. He still points out ” the big boy ball the Binky fairy brought me” so I guess it worked.

    I would add that we also pushed other lovies when he was upset or at bedtime too – so it wasn’t just “oh you’re sad, have your Binky” but rather “have binky and cuddle with your bear” so it helped that he had other attachments than just binky.

  • stacey

    I dont understand why you would take your kids paci away from them at 1. yeah, it might be easier then, but it is how they self sooth. when they are 3-4, you can talk about other solutions for self soothing, brainstorm, etc. 1 is way too little to take away something that basic! 

  • Hi, I’m Natalie.

    Urg. My kids have never used pacifiers (or bottles, little mongrels), but my second child has a hardcore thumb-sucking habit… I can already feel myself drafting the email to Amy… SIGH.

  • S

    Stacey, the reason to take it away at ~1 is that (rumor has it) kids start to develop strong attachments to objects at age 1.5 or so, so it’s significantly harder to take away the pacifier once a kid has reached that point. Then there’s concern that a pacifier can mess up teeth (and the position of baby teeth matters in the development of adult teeth) and limit language development if they’ve always got something in their mouth.
    I have zero judgements for OP and all I can think of are my own excuses for my nearly 3-year-old to still use a pacifier. I got it down to naps and nighttime at like 1.5 and got sidetracked with developmental delays. It didn’t help that the teachers, therapists, and even the dentist have been all, “Meh, whatever, she’ll stop eventually.” I’m 100% full of paci excuses and no motivation whatsoever to get rid of it! Dang, I guess I should get on that.

  • Claire

    Stacey – my son voluntarily gave his dummy up just past 1. Didn’t want it anymore and got angry when we tried to give it. My daughter we just stopped giving it to her around 13 months (was only a bedtime thing anyway) and she was fine. They both have teddies they cuddle. I haven’t deprived my children of any degree of comfort. They gave it up quite happily and easily and we now have no long term issues with it. It was remarkably easy compared to friends with children the same age as op (and my eldest) who are struggling now to get them to give it up.

  • Kristin

    Somewhat similarly – we have an almost two-year-old who is still on the bottle. Does anyone have great ideas about how to get her off? We also have an infant, so we need to get the toddler off the bottle while still being exposed to them daily. The “bottles are for babies” stuff does not work on her yet.

  • Lindsay

    I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I had a terrible thumb sucking habit as a child. When I was 2.5 my parents decided it was time for me to quit, especially after the dentist said it was needed. My parents told me it was time to quit sucking my thumb and if I did so for two weeks I would get a special toy I had been begging for. If I sucked my thumb at all during those two weeks the timer started over, fortunately that never happened and I went cold turkey because I really wanted that toy. My mom created a paper chain for me, like at Christmas time, and I got to take a link off every morning I went the night without thumb sucking. I think using the paper chain and having to earn the toy made me feel more in control of the situation.

  • Katie B

    Just a hopeful note: my serious soother-loving 2.5 yr old gave hers up with very little angst when we told her a baby deer needed it (there are deer in the woods behind our house in the winter). We spent a week or two restricting the soother to bed, then made a big deal about going into the woods to leave it for the baby deer (dad retrieved and tossed later), and then going home to find the little toy deer that the mama deer had left for her. We were shocked when she went to sleep without it the first night, but she cuddled her usual lovey plus her new deer and was fine. Good luck!

  • B

    We did the Pacifier Fairy with our daughter.  Our dog ate her last one and it was the perfect chance to rid her of the habit since she was a few months over three.  She got to choose a gift from a store since she was so brave to sleep without it.  Prior to that though, we spoke for months about how she was getting too old for it and soon she would have to give it up.  We also restricted it to nap and bedtime for about a year before we took it away.  I think she was getting mentally prepared for it for some time.  She never cried or asked for it again but it did take her longer to fall asleep at night for a bit.  So, I guess I would really talk it up for awhile so he knows it is coming at some time.  Good luck.

  • Elizabeth

    My son was VERY attached to his pacifier for naps and bedtime, to the point that we’d leave about 6 of them in his crib. We’d go in to find him asleep, sucking on one with one in each hand.

    The dentist noticed at his 18 month checkup that there was a gap in his jaw, which worsened before his next check up at 2 years old. Dentist said that we could either take away pacifiers, or pay $$$ to have his jaw fixed later on. I DREADED taking away the pacifiers, because my son had such an attachment to them, and it took him a long time to fall asleep even with them.
    However, we told him that the dentist said “no more pacifiers,” and he would repeat that back to me. We cut down to one pacifier for about a week, and then took that one away too. Honestly, it turned out to be anticlimactic. Sometimes my son would tell me “Dentist say no more pacifiers,” but that was about it. Hopefully it’s less of a big deal than you’re expecting too.

  • Mo

    Yeah, my 20 month old calls her paci Bobby, and she loves Bobby with the heat of a thousand suns. I’m pretty sure she would cut me if I tried to give it away. Sigh, it’s going to be fun.

  • Kate F

    My son loved his pacifiers (for sleep only), but also had a strong attachment to a little doll who he still sleeps with and cuddles at four. We took away his pacifiers at 15-16 months when he started waking us up if they’d fallen. We snipped an end, presented the “broken” pacifier, he was pissed for a day or two, the end. Never looked back.

    With our daughter I expected the same story, but obviously kids are SO DIFFERENT. She never found an attachment object other than her pacifiers. I tried and tried with a variety of different types, giving each one a chance–she likes having them in her crib, carefully arranged as far away from her as possible so she can play with them in the morning. Her pacifiers, meanwhile, she counts and lines up next to her pillow and gazes lovingly at while she drifts off with one in her mouth and one in her hand. She turned 2 in August; we’d expected the dentist and pediatrician would say we had to drop it, but she only has them in her crib and her language skills are off the charts, so both said they weren’t at all worried until closer to 5. I still want to break the habit closer to 3 or so, but I have to say it took a lot of pressure off to hear them both so so unconcerned. I think if you get it down to just sleep times, you have a better chance of weaning off, too, since they don’t get comfort from it in new places, etc.

  • Erin

    We started talking to our son about getting rid of his at about 3 YO.  We kept having conversations about it, including the standard “big boys don’t use them” conversation.  Eventually we let him know that when he was ready, we could hang them in the tree out front and the tooth fairy would bring him a surprise.  He went back and forth on that one for about a week.  He would “window shop” at Target for things the tooth fairy might bring.  One night at bed, he told us that would be his last night with the binky (he called them Nuks because that was the brand we used).  The next night at bed, we strung all of his Nuks on pretty curling ribbon (like you decorate packages with) and put them out on the tree.  He was SO proud.  The tooth fairy left him some of his favorite cars that night, and my husband & I took him to Target for a gift from us the next day.  He didn’t talk about his Nuks for a couple of days.  On day three, I think, he got really upset and wanted one, but since the tooth fairy had taken them, he eventually figured out that they weren’t coming back.  We had a few requests for them for maybe a week, but no real nasty problems from it.  He’s 4.5 now and doesn’t even remember what they were.  I honestly believe that for us, investing him in the process and making it feel like his decision on the final timing was why it worked as well as it did.  Good luck!!

  • Britt

    Just wanted to throw some empathy your way.  Both of my kiddos are lovie-addicts, and it’s really upsetting to contemplate setting up limits with their blankies.  I wish you lots of luck, and maybe make sure that you have plenty of chocolate and wine for the big day.  You can do it!

  • Liz

    So, I’m normally all “Yes Amalah! Right on!” But I sort of disagree. I say since you’re already at three years old and the “do it by a year boat” has long since sailed, drop the binkie after your child drops his afternoon nap. It’s SO much easier. Unless you’re ready to drop the nap too. After weaning two kids from the binkie, that is my new standard advice. Take it for what it’s worth.

    • S

      Huh, I like it. I mean, it’s a good excuse. I can at the very least pretend it makes great sense. I’ll do that! 😛

  • kimm

    I have an 18 month old who loves her Didee. At first i thought she was asking where Daddy was one day, but she was saying Didee? I don’t know where is, in a sad sad voice with her hands turned up. I don’t want to take it away yet!

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  • Tric

    I have friends who took their paci-addicted daughter to Build-A-Bear and had her put the pacifier inside of the bear.  That way they still have the pacifier but its not accessible and there is a new more developmentally appropriate comfort object present instead.

  • Kim too

    My oldest spit her binky out, ptooie!, at the age of 7 months, when she figured out that we were using it to try to get her to sleep.  She was having none of that nonsense, at all.  The youngest, though – oy, she is such an oral kid, and she spit hers out at 2 weeks, in favor of her two fingers.  She’s now 4.5, and while we do our best to say, in the car and at home only, what can you do? Physically restrain her from putting her fingers in her mouth?  She has chewies to use at preschool, but she’ll leave it hanging.  She also chews on crayons and eats play dough – very, very oral kid.  We are rolling with it as best we can.

  • BeeBelle

    Not sure how helpful a single person’s case study will be, but here goes. My oldest wouldn’t take a paci. Second had one until 12 months, but gave us a rough few days when the last one went away. With the third we heard that around 7-9 months most babies temporarily lose interest, and that’s a perfect time to lose it (parents often push keeping it at that age). #3 love his paci and when he started to lose interest we just put it away, and sure enough he didn’t need it any more. With baby #2, I’d watch for that opportunity just in case that’s a real thing and not just luck on our part.

  • Taylor

    We used this: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/topics/pacifier for our almost three year-old boy and it worked amazingly well.  Our son responded really well to the countdown (we did that for potty training too, e.g., “10 more days until no more diapers”) and loved decorating the box for the paci to give to his baby brother (that I was pregnant with at the time).  

  • Deb

    We tied the last pacifiers to a helium balloon and let them go at her birthday party at daycare.  Our oldest cried for one night and then got over it, and our second daughter barely noticed.  They get over it.

  • Heidi

    I am SO LATE to this conversation, but just in case anyone checks back in on it or finds it useful… We had a similar situation. We didn’t do it when he turned two because reasons (but had limited it to the crib and airplanes as of age 1), and the dentist kept saying we needed to wean him. So there he was, 2 and a half, and addicted to his paci. He would scream like the house was on fire if it fell out of his bed. 
    Right before the new baby was born we started setting up that pacis were for baby, and the baby would need one all the time, but he could still have his in bed for a little while. He then decided to give all his pacis to the baby…and then took one back. So that failed.  
    When the baby was 2 months old we were on a playdate and the friend we were visiting had a scooter. He NEEDED that scooter. He begged. He pleaded. In a moment of “this will never work” I told him that if he went 4 nights without using the pacifier I would buy him a scooter. 
    On the fifth day we bought him a scooter. No crying. He asked for it a couple of times the first two nights, but when we reminded him that if we gave it to him – which we would have, that was clear to all- then he wouldn’t get the scooter, he decided he didn’t want it after all. 
    He’s never looked back. And when we went to the dentist for his 3 year checkup (4 months after abandoning the paci) his teeth had already moved into the correct position.

  • S

    I HAVE A SOLUTION!!! Put two kids who just turned 3 in the same room to nap. Leave a potty in there. One kid poops. Both smear it all over the walls and bedding and carpet. And — here’s a important part — all over the plethora of pacifiers. BAM! You have no choice but to dump them all out. Oh but what about the next day when she finds the remaining paci hidden beneath the couch? Just offer a cookie. It never worked before, I know, but today it will work. And that’s it! That, my dears, is how to rid an autistic girl of her beloved paci.

  • jay

    When i was 3 and a half i did not want to let go my pacifier i always had it in my mouth one day me dad had enough he took it out of my mouth had a pair of scissors ready and he cut it right in front of me and said no more pacifier you can cry all you want i put the scissors in it

  • Rob

    Our son gave up his binky while visiting his maternal grandparents just before age 2. He had chewed a hole in it and upon notifying Mia it was broken; she suggested he throw it away. He did and within a couple of days hardly missed it. 8 months later, my Mother secretly reintroduces it to him to comfort him to sleep. She thought since he was sick, it would help. He started asking for it again at bedtime so I asked her, but she denied it. A week later my grandma told me otherwise. I objected and took all of her binky and threw them away. She promised not to do it again. A month later, he starts asking for it again after spending the night with her. I asked if he had it at Nanas… He paused suspiciously, then said yes! I asked if she told him not to tell us and he once again confirmed my suspicion. He currently is in daycare 3 days a week and at her house the other 2 days. This definitely isn’t the only instance of her defying our rules. She does so with discipline, diet, tv time, bed time, etc. I’m thinking of throwing her an ultimatum of our rules or he goes to daycare full time. Though I’m sure she’s not gonna change. We’re so tired of seeing such great progress, only to be followed up by regression after staying with them for a night or two.

  • sheena

    My almost 2.5 year old loves his soother. We try to give it to him only for nap and bedtime. We want to wean him from it but now have 4 month old twins with soothers that he likes to take from them. Need help as I don’t know how to wean him when his brothers have theirs and he can take???