Goodbye, Pacifier, Goodbye
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