Question: How do I start pacifier weaning for my 3-year-old?
I'm so embarrassed to be asking this question, but we've gotten to the point where I need to do something! My daughter is three and will be starting preschool soon. She's potty trained, she's sociable, she's smart -- basically where she needs to be development wise. We are really proud of her. Except for one thing. She will not give up her pacifier. She only uses it at night, but for her, not having it is not acceptable. If she wakes up in the middle of the night and it isn't there, she screams and cries until we return it to her. We've tried to have conversations about how she is getting too old for a pacifier, but she won't listen at all. This is becoming an emotional issue for all of us and I don't see a solution. Help!
First off, don't be embarrassed. Every child has certain personality traits and quirks and none of them are anything to be self-conscious about. Secondly, there are plenty of preschool-aged kids who still use a pacifier. This is not an unusual situation.
When your child was a baby, you were probably really grateful the way the pacifier soothed your little one. Now that she's older, she should be able to self-soothe, day or night, without the help of a pacifier (or thumb for that matter). Convincing her of that can be tricky, but there are some great methods you can try to employ to say goodbye to the pacifier for good.
One caveat -- no matter which method you employ while pacifier weaning, make sure you remove all of the pacifiers in the house once you think you are finished. Some children are known for keeping a stash of binkies hidden throughout their home and stumble upon them throughout the course of the day or week. You don't want to have your child give up the pacifier only to have your progress set back because she found an "old friend!"
- Cold turkey. This isn't the method for everyone, but many parents feel simply taking the pacifier away and not returning it is the quickest, cleanest way to go. Yes, there will be tears and possibly some temper tantrums, but in the end, once the pacifier is gone, it's gone and that's it. Now you still need to explain to your child what is going to happen (and maybe give them some fair warning), but the most important part of this method is to stand your ground and not give in.
- Phase it out. Start to set limits on when the pacifier can be used. Not in the car, not in the living room, not after a certain time, etc. Eventually, the hope is that she'll realize she doesn't need it any more.
- Say hello to the "Binky Fairy" or the "Paci Princess" or any other mythological creature of your choosing. Want to take the pacifier away but don't want to feel the wrath of your little one? Let the Binky Fairy do all the work! Simply tell your preschooler that now that she is a big girl (or frame it around a particular milestone -- starting school, turning three, etc.), the Binky Fairy is going to come and take her pacifier in exchange for (insert your reward here). It could be a toy, a trip to the movies or the ice cream shop -- anything that your child will be happy to get. For some parents, a toy or a stuffed animal is the best bet because if the child starts complaining that she is missing her pacifier, they can point to a tangible item and say, "But look, you have Toy X instead! Aren't you lucky?" In any case, the method is up to you but a common practice is to have your child gather all the pacifiers and leave them on the kitchen counter or table one night before bed. When she wakes up in the morning, the pacifiers are gone and the reward is in their place.
- Make the pacifier disappear. Enlist your preschooler in getting the pacifiers out of the house, either by putting them in the garbage, sending them away up into space via balloon or mailing them to "babies who need them." This will also require a talk about no longer using the binky, but by getting your preschooler to take an active role in the process, she may be more likely to stick with it.
- Sabatoge. Not a nice method, but an effective one. Try dipping the pacifier in lemon juice or talk to your pediatrician or pharmacist about another safe solution that you can put the pacifier in. You can also poke a tiny hole (make sure you remove all the pieces) in the tip of the nipple, making it less pleasant and effective to suck. (For safety's sake: Note that cutting off the tip of the pacifier can be dangerous as a small piece can break off and become a choking hazard. If you go this route, be sure to only give your child the pacifier when you are present and check it regularly to make sure it is still sound.)
- Let it stay lost (and don't buy any others). If your child loses her pacifier, don't tear the house apart looking for it. Or, look but don't look too closely. If your child asks where it is, explain that you can't find it.
- Let your preschooler decide. Eventually, believe it or not, your child will let the pacifier go on her own. (Know many tweens that use them?) Remember too, if you force your child to give up the pacifier and she isn't ready, she could possibly transfer her affection to something else -- a lovely, her thumb, biting her nails, etc. If she's really struggling to let the pacifier go and it isn't interfering with her development, give it a rest and try again in a month or so.