Part of helping your little one with any transition is feeling confident as a parent. Here are some tips to help you take that first step to de-soothing.
Soothing and sucking are natural and healthy for a child, and some babies can become attached to their pacifier. It can sometimes feel like this stage will never end, but evidence shows that even if you do nothing, your little one will eventually stop needing the pacifier. If you have any worries about your child’s development or need for comfort, then check with your pediatrician - just to rule out any doubts.
- Take baby steps to find the right way
Many parents say that giving up the pacifier was easier for their baby than they expected it to be. There are many different ways to say good bye to pacifiers, and all can be successful! You need to find the right approach for your little one, and take age, stage and temperament into account. See ‘How do I find the best method of de-soothing?’
Take a moment to check how you’re feeling. Each stage a baby goes through is a step towards independence from us as parents. It is normal to feel a bit nostalgic or sad. Make sure you have enough support and time out for yourself.
On a practical level, check that this is the right time to start reducing and ending your little one’s pacifier use. For example, is it going to be stressful at a certain event or family occasion if your child does not have his pacifier? Make sure you talk things through with a supportive friend or relative (out of ear shot of little ones).
Toddlers respond best to change when it’s introduced in a playful way. Using stories, pictures and laughter will distract your child from the transition. Take time to engage your child’s imagination using visual (puppets, pictures, paints) or auditory games and activities (such as rhymes, songs or stories). The ‘Nutty, Nitty and Nellie’ story is one example of a rhyme to help with language development and tap into your child’s imagination. This will help your child associate letting go of the pacifier with happiness and fun.
- Connecting with their emotions
You may find your little one is carefree and excited or he may be a bit emotional about letting go of the pacifier. If he seems sad or reluctant then acknowledge how he feels, and explain the reason behind your decision. For example, ‘You feel sad, of course let’s have a hug’ then, ‘You will be a big kid soon and you won’t need the pacifier anymore’. As long as your child keeps showing he is feeling wobbly emotionally, keep acknowledging his feelings. Then, each time gently return to the logical reason for giving up his pacifier.
- Help your child feel in control
Poor things; we decide where they go, what they do, with whom, what they eat and when they sleep. No wonder they have a tantrum every now and then! Your toddler will need to feel he is making the choices. Let him choose which night or time of day he gives up the pacifier, which picture to have on his star chart or what present he would like to get as a ‘thank you’ for giving up the pacifier. These are small sacrifices for us, but the difference between feeling powerless and in control to our children.
When the time is right for de-soothing and your little one has helped make decisions, show him that you are 100% positive about this change. Make sure you are calm and clear and confident in your communication. It is exciting that he can now be brave and take a step away from the baby stage.
Language can shape expectations. For example, after reading the ‘Nutty, Nitty, and Nellie’ story, discuss the day when you will say goodbye to the pacifier and when he leaves out the pacifier, then Nellie will leave a present to say thank you.
This is an opportunity to praise and help your little one take pride in his development from baby to young child. Whatever approach you use, recognize and show joy that your little one is being brave to give up his pacifier.
Dr Kerry Taylor, Parent Infant Clinical Psychologist