Breaking Binky: How My Daughter Finally Dropped Her Pacifier Habit

No one goes to college with a pacifier, right?

Toddler with Pacifier in Her Mouth
Photo: Priscilla Gragg

As a stay-at-home dad of three children under the age of 6, I’ve spent the better part of the last decade taking pictures of my kids, documenting the heartfelt moments, daily mishaps, and all-too-frequent disasters that happen on my watch. I’m also a parenting blogger, which puts me in the line of fire for criticism about what I’m doing wrong on a daily basis.

That’s how, last year, I came across the following Facebook comment, written by a stranger, on a selfie that I had posted. “THAT CHILD IS TOO OLD TO HAVE A PACIFIER IN HER MOUTH!” it read. Somehow I had failed to notice my daughter, Ava, standing in the background with her trademark plug wedged between her lips. “Whaph are youph making meh for luncph, Dad?” said my beautiful daughter as she sneaked up behind me in the kitchen, saying something so barely recognizable that I had trouble establishing that it was the English language.

“Huh? What was that?” I asked, suddenly distracted by the barb from a stranger. Maybe I had let the urgency of the situation elude me. She sounded as if one of her brothers had given her a fat lip or she had a big wad of chewing tobacco lodged in her cheek. If only. Instead, she was grinding on a pacifier (what we called her “sucker”)—and she was 5.

Ava’s paci—one of many (she has a collection of about a dozen)—wasn’t even a nice one. Long gone was its vibrant rainbow hue and trendy boutique snap-strap. It looked, in fact, like it had been run over by a truck—which it very well could’ve been, most likely at a rest stop somewhere alongside I-40. I’d once left a pacifier, along with my daughter’s treasured blankie, on the roof of our car on a cross-country move from Los Angeles to Maryland. I eventually retrieved it in the dark of night after several U-turns while creeping alongside the interstate using my cell-phone flashlight. (I’ve also on occasion yanked it free from the jowls of our dog.)

Family legend has it that on my own first birthday, my dad calmly asked me to turn over my pacifier. Without hesitation, I obliged. Neither of my sons, now 4 and 2, ever found any interest in a Binky. So why was my daughter so attached?

This was hardly the first time I’d contemplated the paci situation. Many times over the course of the last year, I’d found myself asking Google, “When should a child stop using a pacifier?” and “Why is my child obsessed with her Binky?” What I discovered is that children genuinely find pacifiers soothing and that there are no serious permanent consequences (at least none that are definitively proven) to letting them keep on sucking. It tore me up to consider taking something away from my daughter that was clearly a source of comfort. Still, did I want Ava showing up at her first day of kindergarten with this gnarled atrocity dangling from her lips?

We’d already been making serious efforts to kiss it goodbye when the all-caps commenter got under my skin. First we’d hacked the ends off of Ava’s secret stash of suckers, hoping the loss of suction might make them less appealing. Nope.

Next, we bribed her with the promise of a new bike if she’d simply try napping without it. No deal. Evidently she loathed bicycles.

I even bought a helium tank, inflated a bunch of pink balloons, and suggested that we attach the pacis to them with colorful string and release them into the clouds “so the stork can bring them to adorable new babies.” Ava hissed at me like a viper poised to strike.

At one point she dropped two of them into the toilet, and I thought we were in the clear—at least in terms of cutting down on her stash. Without skipping a beat, she loudly requested that I put them in the dishwasher and bring them back to life. I cringed in disbelief.

Finally, I put my foot down and demanded that she turn in whatever Binky she’d been using overnight as soon as she woke up each morning. But just as I thought I had the situation under control, I discovered a treasure trove of pristine Binkies I had forgotten all about. She had hidden them in the nook of her bed underneath layers of princess dolls, stuffed animals, and pillows.

At the end of my rope, I recalled that lore about how I’d once turned over my own pacifier with great stoicism, and I decided to attempt the simplest of solutions. So later that day, I went to my daughter, kneeled down, looked deep into her eyes, and explained that when I was 1, I gave up my pacifier. Then I asked Ava: “What do you think? Is it time for you to let it go too?”

After all the trickery, gimmicks, stalling, and false promises, she said yes. She let me and her mom quickly round up all the Binkies, and we never heard another word about it.

Ava’s now 6, and I’m proud to report that she will not be showing up with a Binky at her college orientation. In fact, she even started kindergarten sucker-free.

As parents, we sometimes make our lives exceedingly difficult in an effort to get the results we desire, when in reality the answer is right in front of us the entire time. All my daughter wanted—and all she needed—was to be empowered to make her own decision.

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