Paediatrician Harvey Karp recommends a relaxed approach to phasing out the pacifier. “Try not to feel pressured to break the binky habit if it’s working for your family,” he says. “Sucking is actually a wonderful tool for toddlers to feel secure, calm and confident.”
Many parents come to Karp concerned that continued soother use will cause dental problems. Thumb sucking, he says, is far more likely to result in long-term orthodontic problems. “Those baby teeth will fall out anyways, and a pacifier will almost never affect adult teeth.”
But if you’re tired of constantly reaching down to pick up and dust off the soother — or the time simply feels right to you — you can start to wean around the age of two to three years, suggests Karp. Here’s how.
1. Start slowly
Begin by limiting your toddler’s pacifier only to times when she’s particularly stressed. Instead, encourage a “lovey” (like a blanket or stuffed animal), and gradually eliminate the pacifier from daytime use.
2. Be positive
To encourage your kid’s progress, let her know indirectly how pleased you are with her efforts to self-soothe without a pacifier. “The most effective way to praise your child is allowing her to ‘overhear’ it,” says Karp. “Say, ‘She doesn’t even use a soother, she’s a big girl.’” Avoid comments that may make her feel as though she’s disappointed you, such as, “I guess you’re not really ready yet.”
3. Plan the big day
Designate a special day or significant occasion (such as a birthday) for the transition. You can work out an exchange, so that she gets something else that you have decided on together in return for giving up the soother, recommends Karp.
A version of this article appeared in our November 2012 issue with the headline “Losing the soother,” pp.88.