Wean Pacifier Use by Teaching Toddlers How to Stay Cool and Collected

If I had a dollar for every toddler that greeted me at the door with a pacifier in his mouth……well, you know, I would be on an island in the sun today!  Some parents want to know how to end paci use, as they dread the crying on the day that they send their child to a no-pacifer zone, also known as preschool.  What is going on when a child can’t function for much of the day or night without a nipple in his mouth?

Happiest Baby on the Block (THB) and the Baby Whisperer both support pacifier use when needed in the first 3 months to help soothe fussy babies, and they are also totally supportive of nursing babies for the same purpose.  After that period is the best time to wean a pacifier, but that seems very rare indeed in my experience.  Something happens to a portion of babies and toddlers between the newborn biological need to suck and the near-addiction to pacifiers that some toddlers develop.  I have seen even 4 year-olds go absolutely bonkers if their paci is lost.  Parents who have decided to end paci use try the ‘paci fairy” story, the “a little baby needs yours so we sent it to them” story, and offers of just about any gift or reward.  I rarely hear of an older child that simply handed his mom the pacifier and said he didn’t need it any longer.  And this is fully years after the biological need to suck has faded away.

I did a little bit of on-line research to find out what leading pediatric websites and pediatricians are saying, and it seems that they are all at a loss to explain why it is that only some children hold onto those pacifiers so long and so fiercely.  Just about all of the medical websites warn of dental deformity and slow development of speech with prolonged use.  With my dual training as a THB educator and a pediatric OTR, I think I stumbled onto a pattern.  The kids that really need those “props” (as the Baby Whisperer categorizes them) seem to have either spirited or shy temperaments that continued to require extra help to calm during the day and sleep at night after the first 3-month period.  They also have very few self-calming tools when compared to the waves of uncertainty, moodiness, frustration, whining and aggression that comes with the toddler period.  These children experience major stressors in their days/nights and the only thing anyone has given them that works is the pacifier.

There are angel/textbook/easy kids, to use both the THB and Baby Whisperer temperament categories.  They handle changes and challenges with very little fuss.  They are in the minority by percentages.  Parents lucky enough to have one might not appreciate the day-to-day issues with spirited kids or grumpy temperaments.  There are kids with developmental delays that have more daily struggles than usual as toddlers.  But some parents are aware of potential problems and make very conscious efforts to build self-calming and self-control skills in their kids at an early age.  Like a toddler Venn diagram, I can see the perfect storm of kids with more struggles, parents with less awareness of pitfalls, fewer strategies to teach, and more stress at home and work (it is fast to pop in a paci if it works and you are exhausted) who will fall into that section of intractable pacifier use.

Developing self-control skills in toddlers is not a quick or easy business, but it can be done.  Parents are often unaware that they can teach any self-control strategies to children so young.  I won’t blame them for not having any tools to use.  The Happiest Toddler time-ins (which include kind ignoring and patience stretching) are the best strategies I have ever used to build self-control and mutual respect in my sessions.  I have seen children transform their behavior without anyone raising their voice.  These techniques respect the child’s feelings and accept that self-control is a learned skill, not something you wait to see blossom in the future.  I think that after giving a child some real strategies it is easier and kinder to take away that pacifier, and easier still to stop a pacifier dependency before it ever begins.

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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