Reader Question: Gentle Ways to End Toddler Pacifier Use

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The following was written by editor Kara Fleck.

Recently I received a question from a reader looking for some help.

Maria asks, “My 3yo uses a pacifier at nap and nighttime, and occasionally when she’s feeling extra-vulnerable. It never comes downstairs from the bedroom, though.  For dental reasons, she needs to stop. I want to respect her ability to come to this in her own time and way, but I fear she will not do so on her own.

I am looking for readers to share personal experiences of how they helped older toddlers stop pacifier use.  Thanks.”

My Suggestion: Storytelling

First, it should be said that I don’t have much personal experience with toddlers and pacifiers.  Of my four kids, those who have used a pacifier stopped at a fairly young age and with little need for transition time.

However, I do have a bit of experience with easing young children through transitions, so I can share that one thing that works for us is using storytelling to help ease the change.

For example, when my son was having a difficult time letting me leave him and we knew we had to prepare him for the time I would be away when his sister was born, my husband and I would tell him the story of a baby emperor penguin whose father watched over him until his mother returned.  We checked out books from the library about emperor penguins and we gave him a small penguin doll.

The penguin became a symbol for Max and I truly believe helped him to feel comfortable letting his father and his grandparents care for him when I was having the baby. Penguins are still important to him to this day.

Perhaps you could create a special story for your child, reflecting the changes that need to come as they end their pacifier use  that shows a reassuring resolution?  It wouldn’t have to be elaborate, just a simple story illustrating the change that needs to happen in a gentle way.

Maybe something similar to contributor Robin Zipporah’s story about the Biting Bedbugs and a chewing habit could be adapted for a pacifier?

Good luck, Maria!  I hope that you and your child can find a good, gentle solution for easing through this transition.

Your Advice

As I said, this isn’t an area where I have a lot of experience.  However, I imagine that some of you Simple Kids readers do.

What about you?  Do you have any experience with toddlers and pacifier use?  Can you suggest a gentle way for Maria to help her toddler let go of the pacifier?

I’d really appreciate your advice about toddlers and ending pacifier use in the comments on this post, and I’m sure other readers in this situation would, too. Thanks!

[really_simple_share]
About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at KElizabethFleck.com.

Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakable Peace

Comments

  1. Well, this might not work for every family, especially those that are opposed to bribery in any form ;) but we have done that worked wonderfully for BOTH of our paci-obsessed children is creating a visit from The Paci Fairy.

    We start by talking about The Paci Fairy – how she visits children who are ready to give up their pacis and takes them away to give to little babies who need them. In return for the gift of the pacis, she leaves a special gift for the child.

    After we have talked it up quite a bit, we pick a date for the paci fairy to come visit. We make a big deal about how big they are and how wonderful that they are ready to give their pacis to little babies, then we put the paci (we are usually down to just one for bedtimes by this point) under the pillow.

    In the morning, a special gift is waiting for the child as a reward for such a brave choice!

    It really has worked wonderfully in our family. My older daughter was 3 1/2 when she gave up hers, and our younger daughter was about 2 1/2.

    Good luck!
    Megan at SortaCrunchy´s latest post: this is where . . . i wash the dishes

    • We did the same thing. I even made a little “book” in MSWord so I could personalize it to my child. We had a box outside their door and after reading the story (just a few nights for my oldest, but WEEKS with my 2nd), they put the pacifier in the box and the fo-fun (what my kids called it) fairy left a treat. When we were reading the story I would ask the kids what they thought the fo-fun fairy would leave and then tried to get them that thing. For my oldest is was suckers and sunglasses. For me 2nd it was tinkerbell slippers.

      Good luck!

      I have also heard of people who slowly just start cutting the tips back until there is nothing left. LOL!
      Angela´s latest post: Settling in? What’s that?

    • I wrote up in detail how the Binky Fairy also worked in our house when my son was 2 1/2. It was shortly after the disaster in Haiti and my son decided to “send his binkies to babies in Haiti.” It’s still one of the sweetest parenting moments I have experienced. We did have some tears at nap & bed for a few days (and then randomly again a few months later), but reminding him that he had sent his binkies to other kids seemed to be acceptable to him.
      http://maxwellhousemoments.blogspot.com/2010/01/binky-fairy.html
      Alissa´s latest post: In the Weeds

  2. My oldest I feared would NEVER give up her pacifier. So what I ended up doing was snipping a small hole in it. When she would pop it into her mouth, it just wasn’t the same anymore. lol She had quite a large stash of them, and I had to do this on a few before she just stopped looking for or wanting them. My youngest did use a pacifier, but he was much easier to get him to stop. We just asked him if he was ready to donate them to babies that didn’t have pacifiers.

    • This is exactly what we did for our 2nd daughter (and only pacifier user). We’d had a baby when she was 18 months old and I didn’t want to take it away in the midst of that transition, but by 2, we knew we needed to do something. At that point, the pacis were confined to her bed, but she would use 4-5 at a time. One in her mouth, one held up against her nose and the others clutched in her hand.

      We snipped the tips off them one at a time over a week or so, and it ended up being non-traumatic all around.
      Mandi @ Life…Your Way´s latest post: 101 Days of Christmas: Operation Christmas Child

  3. We also snipped a small whole in the top of the paci–and then continued to snip a bit more every few days. They either lose interest quickly, or keep it until it no longer stays in their mouth b/c nothing is left! But it works.

  4. When the dentist told us it was time to stop the paci (my son was 2.5) I wasn’t sure what to do. On a whim, on the way home from the dentist, I suggested that we give all the “fires” (my son chose to abbreviate with the last half of the word, making for some funny cries of “‘fire, ‘fire, ‘fire”) to a friend’s baby who was visiting that afternoon. To my surprise, he jumped on it. He collected all the pacis and handed them over that afternoon. (I warned the mom beforehand, and no, I’m sure they didn’t actually use the secondhand pacis!) He was a bit sad that night at bedtime, but otherwise he didn’t seem bothered by it.

    Success? Well, sort of. He immediately shoved his fingers in his mouth and started sucking on them all the time instead. :) Can’t do much about that. About 3 months later, he stopped that habit almost entirely. That makes me wonder if he would have grown out of the paci on his own if we’d just given him a little more time.

  5. At 18 to 20 months, we started talking up the fact that when she turned 2, pacis go in the trash. We would ask her every so often “What happens when you turn two?” and she’d reply “Pacis in the trash”… so after several months, she was used to the idea and was expecting it.

    On her 2 year old birthday, we would go around and collect ALL the pacis, and put them in a baggie. We made a big deal about what a big girl she was, and she herself carried the bag full of pacis to the curb.

    If she cried for the paci that night, we would say “Where are your pacis?” and through tears we got an “In the trash.” *sniff, sniff* It was as simple as that. It wasn’t us that was keeping them from her – she was a big girl, and now they were gone. It helped that each of my girls had another “comfort item” (blankie, stuffed animal) that they still had, so we weren’t taking everything away. The requests for the pacis didn’t last long.

    Of course, this worked for my older two, but my youngest is still sucking her thumb at 6. That’s a completely different story. :)

  6. I agree with Katie- we also agreed to give his “binkies” to a baby we know. He had just turned 3 and only used them at night, but it really was time to give them up. We expected a horror show at bedtime, but he didn’t protest. He asked for them a few times, but we just reminded him what a big boy he was to share his binkies with the little baby.

    I never thought it would be this simple- he was seriously addicted to his binky! We also talked to the other mom, so that she could tell him “thank you” for sharing with the new baby.

  7. #1 gave up the binky on his own at 17 months, but #2 went on forever with the binky. Just like some others posted, we snipped a tiny hole in his binkies so that they didn’t work quite right and he chose to throw the “broken” binkies away and never really looked back. He did also have other comfort measures in place- a stuffed bunny and a special blanky- and I think that helped the transition too.
    Erin´s latest post: Warm October Daybook

  8. I have a thumb-sucker (sigh) which we’re still struggling with, but friends of ours gave their 3-year-old-paci-lover a small one (like the 0-6 month old size). He popped it in, looked confused, they said it must be broken and that he was so big…he took them to the trash himself and never looked back.

  9. We did the trimming thing, too. Worked great with our oldest. Our second child was more resistant, and older (because she was so resistant!) so we modified our approach to combine with the trash idea. When she would notice that one was visibly trimmed, we’d say, “oh no! That one is broken!” and throw it out. She got very into throwing out the broken ones, and threw them out on her own. After a few days there were none left. She asked for them but we distracted her with a sip of water, and she was fine after a week or two. Now it’s time to start trimming on the third kid’s pacis!!
    Robin´s latest post: Deputized

  10. We were down to just two pacifiers at about 2.25, and one day at bedtime I truly couldn’t find either of them. So I told T I was sorry, he couldn’t have one for bedtime b/c I didn’t know where they were, and we looked and looked. To my utter astonishment, he was totally fine that night without it. Continued to be fine through the next day (he had been using them quite a lot). When I did find one the next afternoon, i tucked it away. Finally found the last, the one he had actually had earlier that first day, about six weeks later! But we have never looked back. As I said, i was completely surprised at how easily he gave it up. Maybe cold turkey is worth a shot?

    My 5yo still sucks his fingers, though, i would love if you would ask the same question of people who have dealt with weaning kids off that (he has lost his first tooth already and dentist says we need to start working on it so as not to affect his bite when big teeth come in).

  11. Thanks for asking this question! I’ve been thinking about how to get rid of the binky lately. My son will be 3 in January, and we have a baby coming in April. I’m wondering if I should try to get rid of them well before the baby, or wait for a while after? I’ve thought about the binky fairy idea, and also clipping them. I’ve also thought about just telling him the once the baby comes that the baby will need his binkies. I don’t know, what do you all think? Do it early or wait?

  12. We also snipped a bit off the end until it didn’t work for him anymore. Then HE decided to throw it in the garbage because it no longer provided him any comfort. No fuss at all! I think whatever route you go it has to be the child’s decision to get rid of it in the end.
    ~ joey ~´s latest post: making cards

  13. I also have 2 finger suckers and would love ideas on how to address that. We have gotten the older one (3.5) down to only sucking them at nap & bedtime, but the dentist keeps shaking his head and I’m not sure what to do!

  14. I’ve heard many successful stories of the Paci Fairy, collecting all the binkies into a special box to give to other kids in exchange for a special reward, and Noob Baby’s dentist also recommended the snipping technique. As for us, I brought her to the dentist and she had a heart-to-heart with her and told her it was bad for her teeth. She actually had a poster of what paci’s can do to your LO’s teeth (quite disturbing) which she showed her and that did it! Not sure if that will work for others, but the scare technique straight from the dentist’s mouth did it. Again, all these put together can be a great combo coupled with some good books about saying bye-bye to the paci!

  15. my twin nieces were 3.5 yrs and using pacies for naps/bedtimes and they also wanted to go to Build a Bear. So the decision was made that they could build a bear AND put their pacies inside the bears and sleep with them. They can feel the pacie inside their favorite bear and it is with them whenever they go to bed. This seemed to work very well. They have the comfort of their favorite comforter (the pacifier) but it’s not in their mouth!

  16. I Really like the idea of buying the smaller size, encouraging the idea that the child is too big now. Really though, I have no experience with pacis – my daughter used one a handful of times as a newborn for a few minutes each and that’s it. Rather this question makes me wonder, what would anyone advise for the same situation but with nursing. She’s a fairly new three, and is down to nursing to go to sleep, and sometimes when she wakes up. I know in theory I should just let her wean herself since there isn’t the same dental issue with nursing, but I’m over it and ready to move on. Any advice?

  17. Mine gave hers up at 10 months…so I’m really no help. She did it all on her own, just started refusing it (actually would fight us if we tried to give it to her). She’ll be 2 in November. She still nurses but never really sucked on her fingers or thumb, just prefers the “real” thing I guess (lol).

    My sister has a son who loved his pacifiers though. She made him give up cold turkey also when he was almost 2. He fought and cried one night, a little sniffles the next and afterwards he was fine. Giving them a soft toy or some other more age appropriate toy works. Although now he cant go to bed without his dog, his owl and his glowy…

  18. I have only had one of my seven use a pacifier, but when she was around three I explained to her (and showed her with a mirror) how the pacifier was changing her bite and that for her teeth to grow beautiful and straight, we needed her to get rid of the pacifiers. I also said pacifiers were for babies, and she was growing into a little girl like her big sisters, and I also pointed out (using photos) how we couldn’t see her beautiful smile in pictures when she had a pacifier. After that we gathered all of the pacifiers and threw them in the trash and the trash was taken out. That night we had one tearful request for a pacifier that was greeted with the “remember, we got rid of all of them” and she went back to bed, and that was that. A few days later we changed the sheets on her bed and she found two more pacifiers, and she took them straight to the trash.

    I know every child is different (for instance, my first six potty-trainers were afraid of flushing the toilet, my seventh potty-trainer likes to flush the toilet while she’s still sitting on it… I asked her if she wasn’t afraid of falling in like her sisters had been, and she said the hole was too tiny and she was this big (putting her hands on either side of her cheeks))…. even if you have half a dozen or a dozen children, what works for all the rest, might not work for one.
    Heather´s latest post: Fursty Chickens

  19. we started by reading no more pacis and the binky fairy for about a month before we decided to go for it (my daughter was about 2 3/4).

    we talked a lot about how the binky fairy was going to come, and how it was time for the little babies to get her paci because she was such a big girl and they needed them.

    i took her to the disney store and asked her what toy the binky fairy should bring her when she gave them up. she picked a princess doll that i then bought on the DL.

    we then bought a bunch of balloons and tied one to them, let them go and let her watch them fly away while telling her the binky fairy was going to get them. while she was outside, i set the doll outside her door and told her to go find the present the binky fairy left her for being such a brave girl.

    and honestly, it was waaaay harder on us than on her. she cried a bit for a few days about “missing her binkies” but otherwise totally seemed to get that little babies needed it.

    interestingly, within a few weeks her speech improved quite dramatically and she made tons of progress potty training.

  20. someone told me they took the child to a “build-a-bear” store and together they put the soother in the bear, close to the fur so once it was stuffed and zippered, the child could still feel the soother through the fur!

  21. Hmmm we never used pacifiers, none of my kids were into them but I have a child who was born sucking her fingers and I have no idea how to stop the habit… I can’t exactly snip her fingers or toss them out!!! And I don’t want to smear nasty cream on them (grannies suggestion) it just seems mean if that is where she gets her comfort from. But it is time to move on… and I could really do with some suggestions!!!
    se7en´s latest post: Saturday Spot: Nucleus Toys and How to Pick a Great Toy Store…

  22. We just cut a little slit in the paci causing it to no longer “work.” Our 2.5 year old put it in her mouth, pulled it out and said, “It’s broken!” I told her to throw it away then which she did. We cut holes in every one she had and she threw everyone away the same night. I was expecting it to be terrible but she never cried or asked for them again and she was quite attached. I did save one of the pacis and the next year I put a hook on it and put it in her box of Christmas ornaments. At 4 she now thinks it’s really funny to pull that paci out and think she ever would put that in her mouth!

  23. Both of my kids were weaned down to night-time paci use by 18mths. My oldest had the paci fairy visit at 2.5 years and was thrilled by it. My youngest, poor thing, accidently bumped her mouth at 2years old. A few weeks later, her top front tooth turned gray, the gums abscessed, and the tooth had to be pulled. The dentist said that paci use would increase infection risk at the wound site, so the paci had to go. In one short week, we cut the paci cold turkey and we had her front tooth pulled. It was a horrible week! I take comfort in the fact that she appears to remember none of it, after 3 nights she stopped asking for the paci, and, a year and a half later, she appears to be no worse for the wear except for her toothless grin. I tell this story only to comfort parents that even in the worst, least gentle way possible, children do adapt. In fact they adapt much faster than parents. I believe I had nightmares about that week long after she forgot about it.

  24. Out little guy (aka the turtle) is a thumb-sucker so we haven’t had to do the paci break. But he does love his bottle and any attempt to break him from that habit has been ever so painful. Any advice on that topic? He’s 19 mos; was breast-fed for a year; and now drinks whole milk from his bottle. (water he’ll drink from a sippy cup).
    Angie (TheActorsWife)´s latest post: real-time decision making

    • While I have 2 kiddos I need to break from the pacifier (almost 3 and 18 mos), the bottle thing we’ve got down. I thought that would be a fight with our oldest. She was drinking it up until shortly after she turned 2 just at night. She caught a stomach virus and threw up all day long. She asked for her bottle, we told her it would hurt her stomach. She said “okay” and went to sleep. When she got better and asked for it, we just said she was too big. She said “okay” and wen to sleep. Now, she did have her pacifier in it’s place. We do let her keep her sippy cup on her dresser next to her bed and that helps too. Our 2nd weaned herself, she never really liked the bottle.
      Stacie@HobbitDoor´s latest post: Fall Photo Shoot and a Blast From the Past

  25. We took our daughter to the toy store and told her that the babies needed pacis, so she would get to pick out any toy to take home and trade her paci for it. The lady at the register played along easily and accepted the paci as payment without a blink, so I think a lot of people must use that approach. (Of course, I paid for the toy when my husband took my daughter outside.)

    She asked where the paci was later, but we just told her the babies had them now and then asked her where her big girl toy was.

  26. I haven’t read through all the comments, so this may have already been mentioned. For us we lovingly talked with our daughter (a few days after her 4th bday) that she was a big kid and binkies were for babies. And we asked her what we could do about it. She wanted to give them to a friend’s baby. So she drew a picture/card, we wrapped them up and gave it to the mom. It was really sweet. I think we underestimate how strong our kids can be sometimes. It was really hard for her to fall asleep for almost a week without her binkies, but the fact that it was her decision was empowering for her.

  27. we did a bye-bye binky party, where my son picked the date on the calendar and picked out some special food and got a small gift. it seemed to ease the transition because we were planning and talking about it and he got to help make the decisions.

  28. I am the one who posed this question to the editor and I wanted to say “Thank You” for all the great ideas and support here. I hope it has also been helpful to other readers.

    We are on night 10 of no more pacifier. We went to my parents ten days ago for a week’s vacation and my daughter agreed that it would be ok to leave the pacifier at home. She never once asked for it (though she did talk about it). When we returned home, she asked for it the first night and cried when we told her “no.” We stressed how great she did without it and that she clearly was getting too big for it. I think she will ask for it again, but we’re not turning back now.

    So, for those looking for another idea: try choosing a time when you are going away to a new bed and see if it works.

    Thanks again!!

  29. What we did with our son was just to decide to not buy anymore pacifiers. After a few months, he had ruined many pacifiers by chewing on them and then left some at grandma’s house. We were down to one pacifier. Then, it got lost. We looked for it, I looked for it. We could not find it. So I calmly read him a book that night and we talked about how the pacifier was lost. He knew it was true and was able to sleep that night (though he did wake up at 4 am and ended up in bed with me, but he knew the pacifier was gone). We did not find it the next morning so he took a nap without it ( a little more difficult than bedtime, needed some extra stories). The next day I did find it, but after all he’d been through I just threw it away because he had gone to bed the 2nd night without it like a champ! So I’d suggest something like that. There are also several suggestions at http://www.toddler-tips-and-tricks.com/pacifier.html .

  30. Fun reading the strings. My son was so attached to his pacifier that it started to become a real problem. We could not go anywhere without making sure that we had a pacifier in hand. My friend absolutely raved about the bye bye binky method so we decided to give it a try (she found it at http://www.bye-bye-binky.com). All I can say is WOW, worked beautifully for my son with no tantrums, not even one! Super easy and four days later he had no interest in his binky. We really were amazed… highly recommended… Amber

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