For infants and their caregivers, pacifiers are a great source of comfort: Few things soothe a fussy baby as quickly or as easily. But as babies become toddlers, and toddlers become preschoolers, the beloved binky starts becoming less of a comfort and more of a crutch. If your baby is currently using a pacifier, don’t worry: Experts agree that it’s harmless. But once toddlers start growing teeth, many pediatric dentists recommend reducing pacifier use (and preferably getting rid of it altogether) to avoid a dental malalignment (also known as an open bite) in the future.
If it seems like the time is right to start pacifier weaning with your little one, here are a few techniques that you and your sitter can use to help them kick the habit.
Distraction. Pacifiers are one of the first ways little ones learn to deal with stressful situations in their lives. Whether it’s crying because big brother took away a toy, a bedtime ritual or a go-back-to-sleep tool, try to identify the situations where your little one reaches for the binky (or you reach to give it to them) and come up with alternatives (even if the alternative is just you or their caregiver comforting them). You won’t be sleeping much during the first few pacifier-less nights (and your nanny may experience some difficult naptimes), but eventually your child will get used to the new routine.
“Cut” things off. If you snip the tip off of a pacifier it loses its ability to suck and its soothing qualities, and your child will probably lose interest. Just make sure that there are no loose edges hanging off to avoid any potential choking hazards.
Lose ’em. One day your child wakes up and all the binkies have vanished. Make sure your child doesn’t have a pacifier in their mouth when they wake up when this happens. If they’re old enough to inquire about what happened to their pacifiers, both you and your nanny should play dumb (and avoid the baby supplies aisle at the grocery store for a while so there are no reminders).
“Pay” for a toy. If you’re dealing with a two year old (or older) who you can reason with, take them to a toy store and have them pick out a toy that they will have to “pay” for with their pacifier. If they can’t handle parting with their binky, don’t force the issue, but try it again a month or two later.
Throw a party. Here’s another technique for older children: Tell your child that he or she is a “big kid” now and that the pacifiers will be having a going-away party. Over the course of the week, remind your child a couple of times a day so they don’t forget. When the final day comes have them help you round up all the pacifiers and have a “big kid” celebration, with cupcakes, a present, or maybe a trip out to a movie, to keep them happy and distracted.
Read books about it. Just like potty training, there are plenty of great children’s books that address this common issue. A couple to try are Pacifiers are Not Forever by Elizabeth Berdick and Baby’s Binky Box by Jennifer Ormond. You can also try a DVD, such as Sesame Street’s Elmo-themed Bye Bye Pacifier! as well.
Peer pressure. If your child is preschool age and still insisting on a pacifier, chances are it’ll end naturally when their peers start telling them that it’s a babyish thing to have. This may happen at home if the child has an older sibling as well.
Remember, pacifier weaning can be a one-step-forward, two-steps-back process. You may notice your child has had a change in mood or is acting out, and in those cases it’s OK to give the pacifier back for limited periods of time. Also beware of a child starting to thumb suck as a soothing replacement (which is an even harder habit to break). If it seems like the weaning process is taking forever, just remember that your child won’t be taking their binky to college! Your child’s pacifier will become a thing of the past when the time is right.