Many babies get comfort and security from sucking on a pacifier. As they get older, some children will abandon their pacifiers on their own, while others may need a little more help. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) warns that long-term pacifier use can lead to orthodontic problems, and dentists may recommend intervention if a child is still using a pacifier past the age of 3. If your toddler is reluctant to let go of their pacifier, consider these 10 tips for helping them kick the habit.
1. Start Pacifier Weaning Early
It's easier to wean your child off their pacifier if you start the process early, advises the Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. The longer they use their pacifier, the more ingrained the habit will become. If your dentist has suggested weaning your child off their pacifier, don't wait too long to get started.
2. Time the Process Carefully
Pacifier weaning can be stressful for both children and parents. To make the process easier for everyone involved, the University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line recommends weaning during a positive time in the child's life. If, for example, you're moving to a new home or adding a new sibling to the family, it may not be the best time for pacifier weaning.
3. Use Transitional Comfort Items
Children often rely on their pacifiers for comfort. To break the habit, they'll need to learn a new way to find comfort. The AAPD recommends using transitional comfort items to help children get through this time. For example, you could offer a favorite stuffed toy or a cozy blanket instead of a pacifier.
4. Keep Your Child Busy
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that some children suck on their pacifiers to relieve boredom. Parents can help stop their child's pacifier use by offering alternative activities that keep the child's hands busy, such as drawing or playing with toys.
5. Gradually Reduce Pacifier Use
While some kids react well to a cold-turkey approach, others need to be gradually weaned off their pacifiers. The AAPD suggests offering the pacifier only at bedtime and nap time and gradually using it less frequently until it's no longer needed.
6. Help Your Child Sleep
Since pacifiers often help children sleep, your child may have difficulty falling asleep once you start weaning them off the pacifier. To overcome this challenge and help them get to sleep, the Cleveland Clinic recommends limiting their drinks and snacks before bedtime and allowing them to choose what comfort toy they'll take to bed.
7. Give the Pacifier a Creative Send Off
If your child doesn't want to say goodbye to their pacifier, the AAPD suggests giving the device a creative send-off. For example, you could throw a goodbye party for the pacifier. Another option is to place the pacifier under your child's pillow for the "Binky Fairy" to collect while they sleep.
8. Arrange Play Dates
Children copy the behavior of their playmates, and when you're trying to stop their pacifier use, this peer pressure can be helpful. The University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line explains that arranging play dates with kids who don't use pacifiers can encourage your child to stop using theirs.
9. Reward Your Child for Good Behavior
When your child doesn't use their pacifier, the AAP recommends reinforcing this good behavior with rewards and praise. Choose a reward system that works well for your child — for example, some kids may respond best to hugs, while others may prefer stickers.
10. Explain What's Happening
When you decide it's time for your child to stop using a pacifier, the AAP notes that it's important to tell them. Offer an explanation to help your child understand that their pacifier is gone because they're growing up — not because they've done something wrong.
By breaking your child's pacifier habit at an early age, you may be able to help them avoid orthodontic problems in the future. The pacifier weaning process can be stressful, but it's worth it. If you're concerned about your child's pacifier usage, don't hesitate to discuss your worries with your child's pediatric dentist. They can offer further advice for pacifier weaning.