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How can I wean my toddler off his pacifier?
First ask yourself, why do you want to wean your child from the pacifier? If it's interfering with her ability to interact, talk, or play with others then it may be a good idea to phase it out. But if she's using it only to fall asleep (better than relying on you to rock her or lie down with her) and to soothe herself when she's upset, then she is using it to a good end.
Like many parents, you may be concerned about the impact of pacifier use on your child's teeth, but pediatric orthodontists report that regular use of a pacifier before age 4 doesn't cause dental problems or misaligned teeth. Some parents are embarrassed by an older baby with a binky in her mouth, but rest assured when your child gets to preschool and sees that the other kids don't use a pacifier she'll likely give it up on her own. In addition, kids who are dependent on their pacifiers may just substitute their thumbs if the pacifier is taken away.
That said, if you still want to wean your child from the pacifier, the first step is often helping her find other ways to calm herself. Many children use a security blanket or toy for comfort. If your daughter doesn't have a "lovey" already, you can help her develop one by choosing a blanket, stuffed animal, or doll, and including it in your caretaking activities. Have it sit on your lap or your daughter's as you read together, and set it next to her as she eats and when you cuddle before bedtime. Or offer your child the opportunity to trade in the pacifier for a big-boy or big-girl toy, or dip the pacifier in something that doesn't taste so great, like pickle juice, so your kid will look forward to it less.
Taking binky away gradually is the best way to go. Don't get into a power struggle over it or your child may hold onto it more fiercely. When your child wants the pacifier during the day, let her have it for a minute or two and then offer other ways to help her calm down -- a hug from you, snuggling with her lovey, or reading a book together. Reduce the time you let her have it until she doesn't use it at all. Taking the pacifier away at bedtime will probably be more difficult. Perhaps let her use it during reading time and while you're rocking or singing but not when she goes to sleep. Then gradually lessen the time she uses it.
It may also help to have a pacifier going-away party, as special rituals can ease difficult transitions. When your daughter is ready to give up her pacifiers altogether, gather them up, put them in a special place (such as a box you've decorated), sing some good-bye songs, and then put the box away.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, February 2004. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.