Marilyn Heins: Don't rush preschool children into giving up pacifiers

2014-05-25T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T11:06:29Z Marilyn Heins: Don't rush preschool children into giving up pacifiersBy Marilyn Heins Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

“My daughter is 22 months old and is attached to her pacifier when she sleeps. My husband and I have weaned her from it during waking hours a few months back. The problem is she uses it to fall asleep at naptime and at night when she goes to bed. She is very attached to it when she tries to fall asleep. I am worried that the older she gets, the harder it will be to get rid of it. (I don’t want it to cause a problem with her teeth or speech.) It completely calms and relaxes her. Our pediatrician suggested that we tie it to her crib in a place that is awkward for her to get to. We have not tried this strategy yet because it sounds so mean. I have read other articles that suggest that the ‘pacifier fairy’ takes it for other babies, or make it taste bad, or poke a tiny hole in it so it loses its sucking ability, or take it away ‘cold turkey.’

We want this transition to be as easy as possible. I am in my 30s and I STILL remember trying to stop sucking my fingers at a young age and how hard it was!”

Of course it’s hard. It’s hard for any of us, children or grown-ups, to give up that which brings us comfort in a cold world!

Your daughter is not yet 2. This is actually a pretty young age to completely give up comfort sucking. You see sucking gives a baby not only nutrition but also closeness to the nurturing parent who offers either the breast or bottle. This wondrous partnership occurs before the baby is able to walk to the source of food or say, “I’m hungry.” Your daughter can now walk and talk but still needs to feel the world is a safe, nurturing place especially at those scary times when Mommy and Daddy put you in the crib and go away.

I’m glad your daughter doesn’t wear a “face plug” all day. That’s a good start and shows she has learned that the day is filled with fun things to do so she doesn’t need to suck her binky. I am not at all worried about speech or teeth in a child who uses a pacifier (or sucks the thumb) only at nap and bedtimes. BTW though I am not worried about a pacifier at night, I worry a lot about the child who is put to bed with a bottle of milk. That no-no really destroys tooth enamel!

I agree tying a pacifier out of reach, smearing it with a yucky substance to taste awful, poking a hole in it so baby tries to suck but gets no comfort, and the cold turkey method are all mean things to do. Parents who understand how a child develops don’t torture their kid for needing to linger in an earlier stage for a while.

My advice is to let your daughter use a pacifier for now without either worrying about pacifier use or commenting on it. Periodically you might ask her if she is ready to go to sleep without one like the big girls and Mommy do.

By age, say 26 months or so, you can try the Pacifier Fairy ploy. Mommy washes the pacifier and wraps it up like a present, your daughter puts it under her pillow, the fairy gives it to a little baby who needs it and leaves a present for the big girl who gave it away (something small but meaningful to the child). If your daughter does not like the idea at all, back off and try again in a couple of months. Between times of asking your daughter if she is ready, make no comment at all about the pacifier.

Some children do continue to need comfort sucking (usually the thumb or fingers) into the preschool years. The so-called tensional outlets, of which thumb-sucking is only one, actually increase during the preschool years. It’s rare to see a 4-year-old who doesn’t suck a thumb or bite a nail or stammer or fidget in some way. Preschoolers are very busy learning about, and organizing, their world, which is changing every day. Growing up can be a stressful job and children need some harmless release of tension.

Each child develops at his or her own pace and development itself solves most problems. As children mature, they are better able to stop doing what their parents don’t like to see or what causes an injury like a sore, raw thumb. So I always advise parents to ignore preschool thumb-sucking. However, chronic thumb-sucking can affect the alignment of the child’s teeth and the child might get teased by other children for exhibiting a behavior considered babyish. (If you have a child who persists in sucking the thumb see parentkidsright.com/thumbs)

Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent, and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your individual parenting questions. Email info@ParentKidsRight.com for a professional, personal, private and free answer to your questions.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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