Saying Good-Bye to a Pacifier

Dear Sharon,
I am having trouble getting my two-year-old son to give up his pacifier. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Parent,
Most two year olds (and adults) have things they do to comfort themselves. Many young children suck on things (fingers, thumbs, hair, coat strings, blankets, toys or pacifiers).

When and how does a parent help their child find other ways to get comfort? That is not an easy question to answer. I think it is fine that some children hold onto their “baby reassurances” longer than others, but when a parent feels a child is ready to say good-bye to a pacifier here are some things I suggest.

I strongly recommend that parents do not tackle “pacifier changes” if there is a transition or some form of stress going on for a child or family (i.e. a move, new school, new sibling or tension between adult family members.) Waiting until things are relatively calm and relaxed at home can help the efforts to put the pacifier away go much better. In fact when parents can pick a period over several days when they have a little extra time and patience (I know very hard to find) things can go a lot smoother.

I also tell parents to take a child’s “comfort behaviors” seriously. If a child is having trouble giving up a pacifier then it is a very important object and will probably require a concerted and caring parental effort to change the habit.

Letting a child know ahead of time that it is time to think about saying good-bye to the pacifier can sometimes help. Some parents I know gradually reduce the number of times a pacifier can be used. (Certain times of the day or evening might be easier than others to begin the process)

Even a two year old might have some ideas about how to make the transition easier. They might like to hold a favorite toy, choose a big hug from Mom or Dad, or want to play a favorite game instead of sucking a pacifier. (It can be hard to play something fun and use a pacifier at the same time).

Children can also respond to some kind of reward system that offers something special if they use the pacifier less. If rewards are used it is particularly important to make the experience a positive rather than frustrating one. In other words rewards should be easily attainable so a child feels success rather than frustration. Many children use pacifiers to cope with frustration.

When most people say good bye to something they like it is upsetting. (In that way children are no different than adults.) A two year old may need to cry or get angry when going through this transition. I think those kinds of reactions often come with growth and change. If a parent can let their child “blow off some steam” and then find something fun to do with their little one transitions like this one can often go well.

Hopefully some of my suggestions have been helpful, but in the end I suggest that parents simply try their best with pacifiers and other complicated developmental changes. Your efforts may look very different than what I have described, you might even change your mind and wait to see if your son throws his pacifier away on his own; that is fine! Good luck as you begin the process.