For most parents, pacifier weaning is a long, exhausting process—likely full of tears, tantrums, pleas and sleepless nights for you and your kid alike. Getting rid of the pacifier, AKA the binky, may seem like an insurmountable task, but with a little understanding and lots of planning, it can be a relatively stress-free transition.
Let's face it—pacifiers are the perfect tool for soothing tiny tears, and make for a calming companion before sleep or during a stressful situation. Comfort items like binkies and blankies are extensions of home and represent safety to your kids, so respecting this attachment is important, says Linda Lispi, the Assistant Executive Director of Luzerne County Head Start in Pennsylvania. Don't pull the paci out of her mouth abruptly. Instead, Lispi advises acknowledging the importance of the binky, and developing a gentle, gradual strategy for weaning off of it.
It's up to you to step in and comfort your baby in place of a binky, showering her with extra affection as she struggles to adapt. You'll take steps forward, but expect some regression—riding out the tough parts may make you want to rip your hair out, but perseverance will be worth it in the long run. Try these tips to make the pacifier-purging process as pleasant as possible, and avoid any serious meltdowns in the process.
- One thing at a time. This feat should be tackled solo—trying to potty train, move to a "big-kid" bed or introduce a new baby into the mix will make your toddler feel anxious and overwhelmed, leaving her with no desire to hand over the binky. Likewise, at daycare Lispi recommends keeping an eye on the amount of transitioning your child goes through, from room to room, person to person or group to group. Too much disruption could make getting rid of the pacifier more difficult.
- Wait it out. If your tiny tyrant is smack in the middle of her "terrible twos" it may not be the best time to strong-arm away a comfort item. Dentists aren't too concerned about teeth/jaw formation issues until after permanent teeth start to come in, so delaying the pacifier weaning won't have a big impact on her health. Focus on wading through the "no" phase, tantrums and defiant streak without adding anything else to your plate. As kids get older, Lispi says activities and interests in other kids will naturally help wean them off a binky or blankie.
- Make a Plan. Don't spring the paci attack on your child—let her know in advance that the binky's gotta go. Scheduling "pacifier time" each day, such as an hour before naptime, will allow her to get used to the idea—instead of quitting cold turkey. Over time, slowly increase the amount of time she goes binky-less, and eventually you'll be able to get rid of the pacifier with relatively few outbursts.
- Try a tree. If your toddler goes to daycare, suggest establishing a "pacifier tree" for the kids who have trouble letting go. Decorate a large potted plant with new, clean pacifiers, and talk to the kids about how when big kids are ready, they hang their binkies on this tree. Praise and positive language will encourage the toddlers to give up their pacifiers and join the ranks of "big kids" at the daycare center. Be strict on the rules—once the binky is hung it'll stay on the tree; this will allow kids to give up their comfort items at their own pace.
- Plan a "Pacifier Fairy" visit. Magical characters add fun to any task. Tell your toddler that when she's ready, the Pacifier Fairy will come and trade her binky for another small toy or book. Have her hide the pacifier in a special place, such as under her pillow, and swap it while she's fast asleep.
- Amp up the affection. When she needs comfort, offer one-on-one time. During the time of day when she's reaching for the pacifier, snuggle up instead. Reading a book or playing a game together can offer a considerable amount of comfort, without the need for stuffed animals or dolls.
- Find suitable substitutes. Instead of the pacifier or thumb, buy her a fuzzy friend to hug and sleep with, or introduce her to new friends. If these friends are paci-free, she can learn confidence from their behavior.
- Chart and promote cool activities. Sweeten the deal by offering to swap pacifier-free time with an enjoyable outing. Put a few new and stand-by activities on the calendar, reminding your child that if she sticks to the schedule (or comes close), she'll meet friends at the indoor playground, or pat goats at the petting zoo.
- Always have a backup plan. Distraction is key, so always have last-minute, go-to options up your sleeve for times you need to get out of the house. Place friends' numbers on speed dial for quick play dates, and keep tabs on local activities—like library reading or music groups.
Remember, the first few days can be the toughest, but it'll get easier afterward. Use a journal to track progress, jotting down your actions, your baby's reactions, and to vent any frustrations to prevent your emotions from boiling over. If you need more help, reach out to your pediatrician or a childcare expert for helpful suggestions. Once you come out on the other side, be sure to share your own experiences with other moms and dads. Just like you, they'll be grateful for any help you can give.