Weaning pacifiers can be difficult, no matter the age. I wrote a popular post a while back on pacifier use and abuse, Prevent Pacifier Addiction With A Focus on Building Self-Calming Without Plastic , but I think that I might need to write another. Once an older child, over 3, still uses a pacifier, it is a different game to get rid of it. There are professionals that will tell you that if your child really needs it, she should have it. They all agree that if it has disrupted tooth formation or contributed to ear infections, those are good reasons to let it go. But what if her teeth and ears are great? Should you get rid of it because her younger brother let go of his pacifier at 18 months?
Every child is different in their ability to handle daily stress and develop more mature methods of calming and organizing. If you haven’t read The Happiest Toddler on the Block, you might want to try Dr. Karp’s terrific strategies for building self-control and handling frustration. I highly recommend his strategies for bedtime and dealing with aggression and defiance, because those times are when kids (and parents) default to the “paci” to get a child calmed down.
If your child’s speech is delayed, then you have two good reasons to address pacifier use right away, today. First, pacifier use is a very immature tongue/mouth pattern of movement. Please don’t encourage the use of something that slows down/prevents them from making gains in therapy. Second, they can’t talk and suck at the same time. They are losing opportunities to try to use words to deal with their feelings and thoughts. OK, I guess third would be that being unable to communicate all the complex thoughts that they have probably makes them even more edgy and whine for that pacifier. If I had a dollar for every agitated child with a speech delay that became polite, calm, and sweet-as-pie once he could be understood just a little…….
If you haven’t introduced a “lovey”( a toy or other safe object that a child can bring to bed or cuddle with) now would be the time to try it out or try another one. Older children can enjoy the backstory of having a princess or a superhero with them. I have also taught Dr. Karp’s breathing technique to promote calming to older children. That can be very helpful to them, but they do need to see you use it and they have to practice at calmer times in order to be able to use it in the clinch. For some parents who love yoga and meditation, this is great! For others, they will admit that they won’t remember to breathe through someone cutting them off in traffic: they yell. And so does their child when his TV show is shut off.
Some children will accept the idea that the pacifiers are sent to the little babies, the pacifier fairy, or some other entity. Others cannot believe this has happened to them.
Dr. Karp’s techniques for teaching toddlers how to handle frustration and communicate their emotions make life in the daytime better, but they might just be more important for bedtime. Kids and grown-ups are tired, and kids don’t want to leave the fun, especially if it involves a parent that they missed all day long. Pacifiers can be how a child calms themselves down because they don’t know how to interact and manage emotion. Totally understandable at 10 months, but if they are 3 or 4, it is time to build some emotional regulation skills. Teaching these skills is almost impossible to do at 7 pm. The time to work on those skills is when they are fresh as a daisy. If this means playtime with the purpose of teaching patience stretching at 7:30 am while waiting for cereal, it is still a better idea than 7:30 pm, when they are grumpy and tired.
I am convinced that the kindest thing to do for a child, one that uses the pacifier because this child has no other effective ways to calm herself, is to teach her better skills. Mature skills that will last for years. The gift that keeps on giving!