This morning, casually, while at the breakfast table with the boys, I mentioned to O that big boys don’t use pacifiers. I said, “Babies use them, but big boys don’t. You’re soon to be 2 (years) and no longer a baby. You’re a big boy now.”
He asked to get down from the table where his pacifier was sitting. He marched into his room and grabbed his two lovies and came back to the breakfast table. It was as if he instantly knew he needed to look elsewhere for comfort. I didn’t take the pacifier away from the table and he didn’t ask for it again. When I left for clinic a bit later, I asked our nanny to try his nap without it today. Not wanting to set her up, I said, just explain that he’s a big boy (no mean, you’re-no-baby messiness) and see what happens. “If it doesn’t work,” I said, “I’ll do it next week.” But something seemed right about it.
I often tell parents in clinic that they are the experts of their children. Because although as their doctor I may know more about the physical exam, I’ll never understand or trump the instinct of a parent. As one mom mentioned to me in clinic today, we parents simply know who our kids “are” and what is about to happen.
O has been using his pacifier for sleep since I kept shoving it back in his mouth when he was 1 month old. I’ve read the SIDS prevention recommendations (where pacifiers might help protect against it). And we affectionately named the pacifier “the plug” when my first son calmed immensely with it. We loved it. But let me be clear, O absolutely adores the thing. More than most anything else for comfort and sleep. When he puts it in his mouth he displays pure delight. It has been enjoyable to watch. I’m not kidding; I usually say I hate those things (pacifiers). But ever since I’ve known O, I kind of like them. It has just provided him so much joy. There is an innocence to it; he sucks on it, smiles, lies down in his crib and sleeps. He seems to savor it. You can hear him sucking on it deep in sleep. It’s been a lovely relationship.
I got home from clinic around 8:15pm tonight. The boys were still awake. After songs and books, I was the one to put him to down to sleep. We sang songs, he grabbed his lovies, I put him in his crib. Just before I was going to leave the room he said, “Binkie?”
There was something bashful about his tone. I stuck to my guns: “You’re a big boy now.” I was the one with tears in my eyes, not him.
Then, it happened. He grabbed onto his lovies. Tight. He asked me to hold him again. More songs, one more squeeze, and back into his crib. His big blue eyes looked up at me as I left. There was a trust. And then courage. The kind where you face your fears and exceed them. Although you may think I’m stretching the margins of the moment,I saw a part of him tonight that seems woven into his being. He’s brave and trusting. And ready to grow up.
Devastating on some level.
There are all sorts of tips and ideas I give families about weaning a pacifier. Here are my 3 golden rules for toddlers:
- Age: Do your best to get rid of the pacifier by age 2. The gum tissue is still somewhat malleable, and if your child’s teeth have been pushed forward because of the pacifier, getting rid of it as early as possible will allow for those “bucked” teeth to move back into the gumline.
- Temperament: choose an age-temperament-appropriate way to explain it to your toddler. You’re your child’s expert; you decide what that is. From stating it clearly to your child that it’s time to stop using it, to sending it to another baby in the mail, to tossing it into the garbage together. Anything you devise will work.
- Never turn back. Don’t give in and give the pacifier back to your child, however delicious it may seem. You’ll lose all credibility and it will be harder to wean with each attempt.
Despite those three claims, the most important task may be readying yourself. We’re attached to those pacifiers as much as our children are. In our home, it’s been the sole remaining real baby-item. Some of us aren’t entirely ready to wean ourselves from parenting a baby. We need to learn from the courage of our children, pacifier free.
Neither of my children would take a pacifier, but both are finger suckers. My son will be 3 in a few weeks and still sucks on his middle fingers throughout the day (whenever he’s tired, overwhelmed, hungry, cranky, or holding his lovey). We’ve talked about how big kids don’t suck on their fingers and he’ll repeat it back to me and tell me that’s what they say at preschool too, but he shows no signs of stopping. Do you have any suggestions for helping him stop? Especially since there’s no way to take them away, and we can’t replace them with his lovey. Part of how his lovey routine is to rub his lovey’s belly (it’s a stuffed dog) while he sucks on his fingers, so whenever he gets his lovey, he immediately puts his fingers into his mouth (even if he doesn’t need comforting).
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Wenmei, that’s a toughie. With finger or thumb sucking, reasoning is more difficult (there is nothing to take away to make it easy for them to succeed). I think your child with stop once they are motivated to do so. However basic (and frustrating) that may sound, that’s my experience. I would make an effort to pay no attention to the sucking to avoid giving any reinforcement (positive or negative) to the behavior. Then, if you’re getting desperate and your 3 year old has no motivation to discontinue sucking, try considering getting rid of the lovie (ahhhh, so sad though) as his behaviors have clearly been conditioned together. Usually peer pressure in the school environment motivates kids to stop sucking, but that may be years away for you….There is nothing really wrong with finger sucking, of course, except that it can contribute to malocclusion (overbite/crossbite, etc). Once your child is motivated to stop, make a plan on how you can support them (ie reminding him when his fingers are in his mouth) as many of those behaviors are so ingrained, kids have no idea they are even doing it! good luck!! I always tell families if I had a real answer to how to help children stop thumb sucking, I’d never need to work again 🙂 In my experience, band-aids, thumb guards and that sour-apple solution you rub on don’t work well. Internal motivation is the key for any child…
Thanks for such a quick and thorough response! We plan to do what you suggest — just wait it out without making a fuss about it and hope that he eventually stops. And the lovey is not likely to survive many more runs through the washing machine, so that might be the tipping point! I agree that those “cures” don’t seem to work. My mom said I was a thumb-sucker and she put the bitter stuff on my thumb, so I’d just hold my breath and lick it off as fast as I could, then suck away happily…
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
We’ve just survived night #4 of going-to-bed-without-binky. I think it really may be over. There was no mention of it tonight. I may be the only one still thinking about that hunk of silicon around here…
Usually I say to families, “The first few nights are hard, but 4 days in you’ll be golden.” Maybe I’m right?
Martin Young says
Is the pacifier (dummy) really that bad? My kids gave them up at the age of, er…blush…. seven!
Looking back it’s really not how we planned it – there was just so much going on in between – ear infections, ventilation tubes, croup, asthmatic attacks, – all of those things that make kids miserable. And the pacifiers really helped.
So how definitive is the literature on the bad effects? I don’t know that it is conclusive. As for needing orthodontics – yes, my son has already, and my daughter – well, better not let your kids ride bicycles if our experience is anything to go by – she lost her front teeth in an accident.
Our attitude as parents was to choose our battles – the pacifier was one we quietly left to run its own course.
I’m also fresh from success in the pacifier wars. I truly thought my 3 year old would NEVER give hers up. It was like some kind of drug for her, really. However, a couple of weeks ago I told her she might end up with teeth like Mater (from Lightning McQueen) if she didn’t stop sucking her ‘dummy’. She was suitably horrified and handed them in. However, come sleepy time she wanted them back. So one afternoon before she got too tired, I took her last 3 pacifiers up to her room with a pair of scissors and we sat down together and cut the ends right off. She clearly wanted to give them up as she quite happily complied. Needless to say she asked for her dummies later that night but I was able to say ‘remember, sweetie, we cut them up.’ Satisfied, she stopped asking for them. The night ahead was a little hard but not unbearable. And after a couple more nights it was like ‘wow, that wasn’t so hard after all’. Now we have a good laugh about ‘the dummies’. Hope this helps someone out there. It was a really difficult and stressful issue to deal with.
One of my girls was a finger sucker from babyhood to age 11 with the end result being a horrible overbite, buck teeth, etc. She reverted to the finger sucking in her sleep so it was very difficult for her to consciously break the habit.
Her orthodontist said we had to stop the finger sucking before getting orthodontic work or braces would be pointless. He suggested something very simple that ended up being very effective: She sucked on two particular fingers on her right hand so he told us to use a tiny bit of medical tape to tape one of the the fingers she sucked on to the adjoining finger she did not suck on. It worked because her two fingers could no longer easily find their way into her mouth when she slept.
She taped her fingers herself at night so she would feel in charge of the habit change.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Martin, no there certainly aren’t piles of definitive data that pacifiers are bad. I agree that you have to pick battles, use comforts you have, and trust your gut on how you do this. Sounds like you did the right thing for your family. Can’t argue with that…
Ally's Mom says
Hi Dr. Swanson,
Last Friday my 2 year, 2 mo old daughter gave her paci to a friend’s baby b/c we discussed that she is a big girl and doesn’t need it. We talked about it for a few days before it happened and she did great giving it away. However, since that time (now on the end of day 4) she has not taken a nap, bedtime has been a nightmare of crying, and she is waking multiple times during the night. When I lay her down she acts very distraught, fidgets, shakes, etc. It sadly reminds me of withdrawl type symptoms. So far, I have resisted the desperate urge to give it back to her. I wonder if I shouldn’t have done it now. I’m not sure what to do at this point. She has plenty of stuffed animals, loveys, etc but nothing comforts her. I would love any suggestions you might have.
Thanks for your time!
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Well clearly, Ally’s mom, I’ve answered my above question. No, I’m not right.
Sorry it’s so tough. I’d still work on not going back. ALthough that I’m sure seems like the compassionate thing to do. The trouble is, in the long wrong it may be even MORE difficult next time you try to wean her from it.
The compassionate way may be showing her she can trust your word. Figure out ways to provide positive reinforcement. Offering rewards for times when she lays down and doesn’t scream. Or talk about getting a new sleeping companion (new lovie/stuffed type creature) to replace it. Create a new bedtime tradition, maybe a new song, a new position for the bed or crib in the room, something to mark a line in the sand that this is a new and *improved* time on some level.
Celebrate what a big girl she is. Talk about that today/tonight/tomorrow. And repeat.
Keep us posted.
Note to self: write about binkies. They draw attention! I’ve had some moms report luck with a formal ceremony marking the end of binkiehood. Love the convo around this one.
my daughter was a thumb sucker from 2 months on. Finally when she was in kindergarten we got serious about breaking the habit. We tried it all from thumb guards, to nail polish, to band aids. nothing worked. Finally when she hit first grade she decided with us that she was ready. we put a band aid on her finger 24/7 for 2 months and that was the end of it. She was so proud of herself. Our first son is 22 months. he has a monkey blanket he sleeps with but never took to anything either pacifier or thumb. Our baby who is 3 months old doesn’t take the pacifier only time will tell if he takes the thumb or not. Good luck to all those breaking whatever habit they have. We also had a friend’s daughter give our baby her pacifier so she could be a big girl. We traded her pacifiers for a new stuffed animal.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
Yes, everyone has an opinion or experience with the binkie or finger sucking, I think. Clearly why this is a low-priority issue at times. Sucking for soothing is a part of baby-hood. I’m planning on doing a series of posts about pacifiers in the NICU, pacifiers after birth, pacifiers and breast feeding, pacifiers and SIDS, pacifiers and malocclusion, etc (when will this happen????) Because I talk about binkies in the office ALL.THE.TIME.
For the record, I’m still missing the binkie. Day 5….
Our son gave up his binky this past New Year’s Eve, when he was 5 years old. He’s been fed entirely through a feeding tube since he was 10 weeks old, so the pacifier provided comfort and also was his only source of oral stimulation for a few years. However, it was definitely past time to “pull the plug” by the time we did. We had success creating the concept of a “binky fairy” who came one night to take his remaining pacifiers and pass them on to little babies who needed them. As a reward, the binky fairy also left a toy. We went through one or two rough nights, but the transition went much more smoothly than I could have anticipated.
We recently got rid of the bink (we were down to nap and nighttime only) and the first night was rough but I never wavered. Now, it’s fine, but I was not prepared for the “much shorter naps” that are now happening and never went back to normal (probably been 2 months now). Oh well.
Im glad I found this…my twin sons are 21mos now, and I would like to get rid of the pacifiers by or around age 2. I was under the impression that it’s bad for their teeth. They only use it when sleeping in a crib (naps, bedtime) but it has become a signal that it’s time to go to sleep—they take the pacifier and they generally don’t put up much fuss.
I’m worried that taking away the pacifiers will keep them from going to sleep. Also, most nights, they sleep until morning, but occasionally (more often when sick or teething) they’ll wake in the night, realize binky is lost, and cry. My husband or I will go in and replace the binky, and they go back to sleep. Based on that, does it make more sense to wait until (the current round) of colds and teething are over before even considering binky removal?
While I’m nervous about this step, because I absolutely hate not getting enough sleep, and I suspect binky removal will involve at least 4 nights of interrupted sleep with a lot of crying, I’m also concerned about my husband. I’ll talk with him of course, but he’s kind of a sucker. We had actually successfully taken binkies away when the boys were 7mos old—and my husband reintroduced them when they were 11mos old, because they had the flu. I will suggest going totally cold turkey, so neither of us are tempted to reinstate the habit.
I guess my ultimate question is this:)Are children likely to refuse to sleep (naps and bedtime)for more than a few days because of binky loss? I’m concerned about them getting enough sleep as well my husband and I.
This comment is months late, but I’ve been thinking about this post for several months. My son lost his pacifier during nap (that’s what you get when you mess around during nap time instead of sleep!) when he was 3 years, 4 months old. That night he went to bed without it but did fuss a bit. The next day we went to grandma’s for 4 nights and grandma doesn’t have extra pacifiers for boys (yes, I was chicken and had found it and stuck it in the suitcase.) Anyway, he asked for his “passo” the first 3 nights and said nothing about it the fourth. Of course, he asked for it the first night we were home. Here is the part I find most interesting. He still occasionally asks about it at random times 4 months later. While the transition was actually much easier and smoother than I anticipated, he still seems to miss it a little bit. While I would never reintroduce it at this point, I do feel a little sad that he still feels he’s missing a little part of his favorite part of his life.
Wendy Sue Swanson, MD says
I bet you feel that way. I do, too! Your story makes perfect sense to me. And I can entirely imagine your feelings.
Although, O, my youngest doesn’t. Last week we were rearranging a shelf in my bathroom and ran across a pacifier. I expected him to respond like your son—some sort of reuniting dance, love-fest, etc. He just looked at it and grinned. I said, “What is that?” He said, “Something for your mouth.” And that was it. He didn’t try to put it in his mouth, play with it. Just walked away. My heart sank, my stomach dropped… but he seemed to move on within an instant. Huh. You wonder, who was it pacifying around here anyway?
Greetings, I’m sorry but I couldn’t disagree more with what you said in the above article. For millennia babies have NOT used pacifiers…it is a new product of the industrial society we live in…a plastic petroleum based product that comes from the Earth. ..and like all petroleum…it should stay in the ground. No baby needs a pacifier…what they need is their mother’s nipple. I don’t need to be a doctor or scientist or any “professional” in this very messed up destructive to the Earth society live in. I am simply a mother who knows instinctively how to raise a child. Speaking of I have a 23 month old little girl who people from miles around tell me how simply gorgeous and healthy looking she is.Why bbecause I follow the ancent wisdom of the Earth that’s inherently in all of us but that we’ve all forgotten(due to being programmed by our very materialistic society) except in older native cultures. Thank you.