Pacifier Problems

Dear Dr. Ann please help with my serious pacifier problem!

I believe your thoughts on weaning a child from a pacifier is that it shouldn’t be done unless he’s ready. And that a pacifier is a very emotional connection between a child and parent.

My son is 3 years 3 months old. At 3 we limited his pacifier (papai) use to only nap and bedtime. Then he started coming out of bed with it and it became a power struggle. Because of this struggle and our son’s cross bite my husband and I to agree that it was time he give up the ‘papai’.

He gave his ‘papai’ to the dentist. He gave it up willingly with no problems. I was shocked. Then at naptime he threw a tantrum for an hour and a half! I kept trying to be encouraging and sympathetic, telling him I understand that he’s sad but that “you can do it” and “you’ll be fine”.

Later, I went to check on him and he had snuck into his 19month old sleeping sister’s room and he took her ‘papai’ out of her mouth and had it in his mouth. He really wanted to go to sleep; he just couldn’t without the pacifier! It’s seriously like a drug!

I feel like he needs to figure out how to go to sleep w/out the paci and my husband is adamant about it being gone. I just wonder if I’m screwing up my child! Is this pure punishment or is it something that has to be done sooner or later? Diane


You are correct, your child’s “papai” represents his connection to you and your husband. Try not to think of the pacifier as a plastic and rubber object, but rather what it represents. It helps your son know he will be “OK” if you and your husband are not around…namely when he sleeps.

I would never presume to tell you or your husband ‘when’ it is time to have your child give up his pacifier as that is up to you as his parents. But, what I will share with you is some child development information.

-1st don’t ever use chronological age to determine if a child is ready to handle changes in their lives. Just because your child is 16 years old does not mean they are mature enough to get behind the wheel of a car.

-The pacifier represents the child’s ability to deal with their emotions.

For example, it is no different than you looking at a picture of yourself and your beloved mother embracing at your wedding. When you look at the picture it elicits an emotion/feeling in you.

When you think about it, that picture is simply photo paper and nothing more. But, it is what it represents that really matters to you. If I told you right now, that you were old enough to have me remove all the sentimental pictures out of your house, what would you do?

Probably you’d say I am crazy and tell me those mean something to you, so no you’re not getting rid of them. So, what is the solution? Pacifiers until they go to college, if that is what they want…absolutely not.

The answer is to help your child transition to some other more appropriate object (match box car, stuffed animal) to help him understand his feelings.

Don’t just take away what represents comfort for him without replacing it with something else. During the day if he is having a hard time or you leave him with a baby sitter just hand him the substitute object and say, “Here is ‘stuffed animal’ and it will make you feel better while mom is gone”.

Thanks Diane for sharing your common story for all parents to relate to, Dr. Ann