Q: How do I wean my 20-month-old daughter off her pacifier? She goes to sleep with it and uses it to calm herself down when she’s upset.
A: First, consider why 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 is using it only to fall asleep and to soothe herself, then she’s using it wisely and there is no need to give it up right now.
Like many parents, you may be concerned about the impact of pacifier use on your child’s teeth, but this is not a concern at her age. Pediatric orthodontists report that regular use of a pacifier before age 4 does not cause dental problems. Other parents are embarrassed by seeing an older baby with a pacifier. But when your child gets to preschool and sees that the other kids don’t use one she’ll likely give it up on her own. It is true, however, that the longer a habit goes on, the harder it can be to break, which is a reason to consider starting the weaning process sooner rather than later.
Since your child is using her pacifier to self-soothe, an important first step to weaning is to help her find other ways to calm herself. Many children use a security 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 daughter’s lap as you read together, and set it next to her as she eats and when you cuddle before bedtime.
For some children, taking the pacifier away gradually may be best. 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. Or, establish some rules about when she is allowed to use the pacifier, such as only during naps and at bedtime. 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 but not when she goes to sleep.
For other children, such as those who need more predictability and have a hard time with change, it may be easiest to go cold turkey. Some families have a ritual during which they gather up all the pacifiers and put them in a special memory box that gets tucked away somewhere. Other families collect the pacifiers and put them in an envelope that they place in the mailbox to "send the pacifiers to another baby who needs them."