Helping Your Toddler Give Up the Pacifier

How to get your child to say good-bye to the binky

Toddler with Pacifier
Toddlers can be very resistant to giving up their pacifier. kevinrohr/

Pacifiers can be a saving grace when your baby is an infant and desperate to suck herself to sleep. It may also reduce your child's risk of SIDS.

Doctors often recommend that your baby give up the pacifier around her first birthday to avoid problems with teeth alignment and pacifier-related injury -- and, of course, the longer your child uses the pacifier, the more attached she's likely to become (thus, the harder it will be break the habit).

If you've already missed that 12-month mark, you might be stressing about how to separate your toddler from that beloved paci, binky, nukie, boo-bah, or whatever your family pet name is for that magical sucker. These tried-and-true strategies are a good place to start.

Going Cold Turkey

Like pulling off a band aid, sometimes taking the pacifier away abruptly and with no looking back can be the best way to deal with the situation. Be prepared for some tears at first, but like sleep training, your child should ease into the new routine (sans pacifier) within a few days. The key to success is not to reverse your decision, so if you plan to try this method, you should seriously consider tossing every pacifier in the house out before you begin.

Introducing a Substitution

For a toddler who has become dependent on a pacifier to calm himself, it might help to use a sippy cup filled with water in place of the pacifier to ease the separation.

Some pediatricians recommend a cup with a collapsible rubber straw spout-style cups because using the straw is better for developing facial muscles and avoids situations in which prolonged sucking from bottles or pacifiers can lead to ear infections.

Taking It Slow

If you think your toddler is just not ready to give up his pacifier, that's understandable.

Sucking on a pacifier is a relaxing habit. It is often the way paci-loving kids soothe themselves to sleep. Taking way the paci may lead to sleep problems like night terrors or frequent wakings. To repalce the pacifier, your little one might start sucking his fingers -- a less than ideal alterntive since finger sucking also causes serious tooth alignment and mouth formation issues (and increases the risk of illnesses since your child is putting hands taht could be dirty into his mouth).

For kids that have a tough time letting go, you might want to try a more gradual approach to the good bye. If your toddler is using the binky during the day, start by telling him he can only have it at nap and bedtime. Eventually, cut out the nap time sucking as well, and then eliminate the bedtime pacifier as well. It may help if you explain that pacifiers are something all little kids have to grow out of (like a favorite pair of sneakers). Often, parents will set a milestone date such as a toddler's birthday and let a child know that after that day, the pacifier will be retired forever.

Don't expect the transition to be easy. Also, don't measure your child's readiness to give up the binky against her age or the fact that other children you know have given it up. Every child grows at his or her own pace. While you should aim to wean your child off the pacifier in her second year for health and safety reasons, you don't have to worry if it takes your child a little longer than a friend's child to make that leap.

Continue Reading