By Liz Bruckner
From the print edition, May 2012
Crystal Ball’s three-year-old son, Charlie, loves his pacifier. “He’s down to using a soother only to sleep, but despite our repeated attempts to wean him, he’s determined to never let it go,” says the Grand Falls, Nfld., mom. While she is still working at helping her son say goodbye to his soother, she has a different strategy in mind for her one-year-old daughter, Kate. “When it’s time for her to go to the big-girl bed, the soother will go with the crib,” says Ball.
When it comes to ditching the pacifier, it’s completely understandable that toddlers are reluctant to let it go. “As the name suggests, a soother is just that—a way for a child to soothe themselves. When you take the soother away, especially before they’re ready, it can be a very difficult adjustment for a child,” says Dr. Mark Feldman, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s Community Paediatrics Committee.
“When adults get upset, we have a host of options to comfort ourselves,” says Dr. Deborah Bell, a Vancouver-based registered psychologist. “Imagine what it would feel like if someone came along and took away the things you look to most for comfort.” Still, despite inevitable hurt feelings, removing pacifiers from your child’s life is necessary. Here’s how to make the task easier.
When to Call It Quits
Though there aren’t any hard and fast rules to follow when it comes to getting rid of a soother, the sooner after your child turns one, the better. Research shows that children who continue to use a pacifier past the age of four are at a higher risk for developing dental complications. However, Dr. Bell says the decision ultimately comes down to parents’ beliefs or feelings about the right age, and a child’s readiness to bid it adieu. “My advice is to follow your instincts,” she says.
Read the Signs
A child might be ready to go sans soother when she asks for it less, falls asleep independently and can communicate her needs verbally. If situations arise where the soother is forgotten on an outing or is unavailable at bedtime, note how your child reacts, says Dr. Feldman. “Is she content to accept soothing from you? Will she take a transition object (such as a stuffed animal) instead? If so, chances are good that she’s able to bridge the separation from you and is likely ready to give up her soother.”
Tammy Smith’s kids indicated they were ready to ditch their soothers all on their own. “My son Noah decided to get rid of his at age two when his sister came home from the hospital, simply because he didn’t want to be called a baby. And Madison got rid of hers when she was two-and-a-half and realized that none of the other kids had one,” says the Sturgeon Falls, Ont., mom.
Katie Peet of Ennismore, Ont., used a calendar method, marking the day the soother would go, with her two kids. “Things went off without a hitch for my daughter because she wanted to be a big girl. I’ve picked a day for my son, who’s two, and we’re getting a cake and having a goodbye-soother party. Afterwards, the plan is for him to give his soothers to the garbage man.”
Types of Responses
If a child is ready, this milestone may be relatively smooth, says Dr. Bell. “Some children look forward to it as a sign of them being a big kid, while others may throw tantrums, be sad or ask repeatedly to have it back.” She adds that it’s not uncommon for some kids to regress and act more like a baby in an effort to cope with the change, but don’t humiliate your child if this happens. “Whatever the response, parents may need to step in to figure out how to help their child get along without it,” says Dr. Bell.
Once you pick your approach, stand your ground and stay consistent. Sherry Bembridge, a mom of two from Kincardine, Ont., eventually pulled the plug on each of her kids at 18 months. “Both would wake up at night because their soothers were missing, meaning I’d have to grope around for it in the dark. Eventually I just had to get rid of them in one fell swoop. After four or five days of hell, they figured out how to soothe themselves,” she says.
“Expect that there may be some crying and that you’ll feel guilty,” says Dr. Feldman. Be patient, expect their sleep might suffer and dole out extra snuggles, he says. “Keep reminding yourself that it’s the right thing to do. Ultimately, you’ll get over this hurdle, and so will your child.”