Tag Archives: soothers

Reader’s Question: Some thoughts about the best ages to wean off pacifiers

Hi there. I'm back. And really happy to let you know that I'm sticking around for the long haul. I've got some new developments to this blog I want to tell you all about. Much of it has to do with your feedback and some extra-fun ideas I've been thinking through when I finally decided to re-commit myself to this blog. That will be a separate post though. For now, let's get to a simple question about pacifiers, one that has been emailed to me in various similar forms in the last few weeks. 

I would be interested in your take on weaning from pacifiers, if
there's a time that developmentally more appropriate than another. 
Maggie actually has a cold right now, and I thought she might be using
them less b/c she is so stuffed up, but nope, it's still in her mouth
in the night!… Maggie will be 11 months on Tuesday, if that helps your analysis.

As you might guess by now, yes, knowing your child's age will ALWAYS help the analysis, in my opinion. Some of the emails I got about soothers and the challenges they posed were from parents of young babies, others from older kids (I'll get to the older age soon). So, Maggie is at the tail-end of a doozy of a stage transition. So, any plans on weaning off ANYTHING — breast, bottle, or pacifier — I would hold off on for another month, until things start to settle a bit developmentally. Just like any big change that requires altering some fundamental way that the child self-soothes, making these changes during transition periods will be much harder than waiting for a more stable window. But there are different considerations you can take into account at different ages. So… 12 months might be a great age to wean off pacifiers if your child actually CAN fall asleep without them. It will probably require some systematic "sleep training" method, because most kids get VERY attached to their soothers. But it can work quite well at 12 months. And at this age, you are less likely to have to worry about any damage to the teeth that might have occurred. There's also the option of "partial weaning" if your child takes the pacifier throughout the day to soothe. You can make the pacifier available ONLY for sleeping — keep it / them in the crib and only let the child use it for naptimes and bedtimes. This might cut down on potential damage to teeth and also minimize some of the other problems that some parents have with children who use pacifiers constantly (difficulty with speech production, difficulty being understood, reliance on pacis as the only soothing method during stressful periods, etc.). 

The next window of opportunity might be around 24-30 months, but that might be a tougher age because the child at that age has a greater capacity to remember objects and rituals. As a result, their attachment to their pacifiers (and teddies, lovies, etc.), may be much greater and may take more convincing to work out. 

Another window of opportunity comes up around the 3 – 3.5 year old period. Of course, at this age children are VERY aware of what objects of comfort mean to them and they have a brilliant capacity to keep things in mind for a VERY LONG TIME (just think about the perseverating a 3-year old can do when she really, really, really wants that particular toy at the store, or that particular type of food at dinnertime). BUT!  What's glorious at this age is the child's capacity to understand rules and to groove with the idea that they're part of a family with mini-rituals (or scripts, as some call it). So… you can take advantage of that more sophisticated way of understanding the world and "make up" a new rule, or ritual (I prefer that phrasing than outright "lie to your kid"). At age 2, kids are not likely to understand or care much about a "soother fairy" or about the world-recognized rite of passage: "the great soother pass-down" (whatever… I just made that name up, obviously, but it IS well-known). But at THREE?!  Oh, they can really get into it. So, many a wise mama has explained to her child that when he turns 3, he will be a BIG BOY. And when he's a BIG BOY, he will no longer need his soother/pacifier/binky. Because of course, pacifiers are for small babies and so, it is commonly known across many lands far and wide that when a child turns three, he gives his pacifiers to his mother, who will dutifully place them in the VERY IMPORTANT ENVELOPE that will then be sent to ALL THE BABIES around the world who need the pacifiers when they're crying. Many parents take some variation of this type of story and tell it to their child. And it works. It seems MAGICAL, that's how easily it works for some kids.

Confession: Our kids gave up their pacifiers at 3 years old EXACTLY (no, I'm not obsessive about age at all). Here's the sad, momentous day, captured digitally. No, I do not put this picture up to dazzle you with my keen fashion sense of evening-wear. I just felt like proving to all of you going through this "late weaning" process that I really DO get how hard it can be. I was there a mere 6 months ago and it went FINE. I would never have believed that this silly little "give the babies your soothers" tale would work, but they got totally into it and, after 3 days of some mild pleading for the babies to give BACK their soothers, the 3-year habit (that was supposed to be so evil and was never, ever, ever going to be able to be broken because we were so, so permissive) was over. I was shocked.No paci Ruby

But again, it only works for kids who are at an age when these rituals can be made meaningful and when they are motivated to comply with rules. I think that golden age for this type of strategy really is around 3 – 3.5 years old. Because then the mighty next stage transition sets in… 3.5 years old. This is when they CAN and DO understand roles, rules and rituals, but shame and self-consciousness may have come online with a vengeance. Giving up a pacifier "to not be a baby" may carry on a whole lot more meaning than any parent wants to provide at that next developmental transition.

How did YOU get your child to give up his/her pacifier? Was it easy or hard; a bigger or smaller deal than you thought it would be? And how much do you think the whole thing has to do with where you're raising your kid(s)? I know that some of the pacifier hoopla is very culturally-determined — in some countries, my kids would have been considered brilliant for having only had their soothers at bedtimes and "only" until age 3; in other countries, the judgy-mcJudges would have thought I was NUTS to let my kids use soothers for so long.