Getting my child to give up her pacifier?
Dear Dr. Laura,
My three year old uses a pacifier for comfort. Her dentist says she should give it up, and I admit that I would like her to but I don't want to traumatize her. I have seen other kids give it up cold turkey but then start a bad habit like hair twirling. Is there an easy way to do this?
The American Dental Association warns that kids over three who use pacifiers risk problems with their dental arches. At the same time, small humans have an innate need to suck, and in most of the world, three year olds still nurse. So I applaud your feeling that you don't want to traumatize your daughter to wean her off the pacifier.
I do feel that pacifiers can too often get in the way of social interaction and play, so it's better if three year olds don't use a pacifier except for comfort, such as at bedtime.
Many parents use the cold turkey approach. There are some hard nights, but the child adapts. Of course, that would also be true if the child had a more significant loss. It is hard to know how much it costs them inside.
I personally think it's much better if the pacifier is abandoned by the child, rather than taken away from her. One idea to hasten this process is to poke a small hole in the nipple. Because it breaks the suction, the sucking will be less satisfying and the child will probably decide to give up the pacifier herself. She will be comforted during this time just by being able to fondle the pacifier as she falls asleep, and she won't have to feel victimized, angry, or shamed by having her pacifier taken away and being told she is too old for it and shouldn't need it.
Be aware that little ones use pacifiers to "pacify" themselves, which means that without it some big tears and fears can come to the surface to be processed. Stay compassionate if your child gets grumpy in the week or so when she's getting used to giving up the pacifier. She will probably need to cry a fair amount, and that's a good thing -- she's venting feelings that she's been lugging around, and using the pacifier to keep down. With your loving attention, she'll cry and evaporate those feelings, and she won't need the pacifier any more to soothe herself.