Updated: Dec 24, 2021
Pacifiers can be a great tool to help babies sleep. Sucking is a natural reflex. Some babies have even been seen via ultrasound sucking their thumb in the womb! For this reason, pacifiers offer a source of comfort. However, babies can easily become addicted to their #pacifier, demanding it throughout the day and well into their toddler years. This makes it really tough to get a #toddler to give up the pacifier. I want to explain the easy way we did it with our 2.5 year old with minimal tears. The best part...I never had to be the "bad guy" who took it away from him!
(Before I do that, if you're child has sleep issues from the pacifier and you're looking for answers, download my free Pacifier Guide here.)
First of all, let me explain why we chose to get rid of the pacifier at age 2.5. Around 18 months, I took him to the pediatric dentist for the first time. One of the questions she asked was about pacifier use. Her recommendation is that a child is only using the pacifier for sleep (not all day) by the time he turns 2. She wanted us to stop use altogether by the time he turned 3. Extended use of a pacifier has been linked to dental issues later.
We had already started reducing his pacifier use to just while sleeping around a year. He was starting to want it all day everyday, and would throw fits without it. I wanted him to have the comfort while sleeping, but didn't want it to be problematic.
We were able to reduce it mainly with distraction. If he'd get busy playing and lay it down, I'd grab it and hide it when he wasn't looking. I'd take it from him after waking up and try to distract him with food. The main issue with this method was that it took so long to make progress and was never really complete. He would still cry for it here and there even though we usually only gave it to him for sleep. So I knew distraction wasn't the method I wanted to use when it was time to completely get rid of the pacifier.
Since we will have a newborn baby when he turns 3, I didn't want to be messing with his pacifier at that time. I wanted it to be long gone by the time the baby came around so there weren't issues when we gave one to the baby.
How to Take Away Pacifier - Give Him Control
Since giving up the pacifier is a big deal and often comes with lots of tears and protesting, I decided to instead give him the control. I didn't want to be the "bad guy" who was just refusing to give him the pacifier, which usually results in a lot of crying. I also didn't want to go back and forth with it, giving in if his protests became too much. Wavering just makes the whole process longer and harder on everyone.
So I did the basic mom thing...I took him to Target. We explored the toy aisles, oohing and ahhing about all of the cool things they had. He was especially excited about this big backhoe loader truck (or tractor, "tracker" as he calls it). He reeeeaaaaalllly wanted it. I told him that it was a little expensive ($35), so he would have to help me pay for it...with his raffies.
Side note: His pacifiers used to be attached to giraffe wub-a-nubs. Giraffe=raffie. The giraffes had all since fallen off, but he still called them his raffies. He had 3 of them, and yes he needed all 3 to go to sleep.
I asked him if he would be willing to pay for the tractor with his raffies and he gladly screamed, "Yeah!" So we went home and talked about it that evening. We told Dada about it and talked about taking his raffies to the store the next day to buy the tractor. We explained to him that if he paid for it with his raffies, that meant he wouldn't have them anymore. They would have to stay at the store. We talked about it a lot over the next day and kept asking him if he still wanted to buy it, knowing he wouldn't have his raffies any more. His answer was always a big, "Yeah!"
We went to the store as a family, with his raffies in a bag. He happily grabbed the backhoe loader and immediately began playing with it in the cart. As we got to the checkout counter, I ran ahead and explained to the cashier what we were doing. She gladly obliged to accept his raffies as tender, and agreed to throw them away after we left. He put his tractor on the belt and handed his bag of raffies to the cashier. We made a big deal about it, saying bye to the raffies and showing excitement over the tractor.
What Happened at Bedtime
I expected a little protesting at first when he didn't have his raffies for bed. We planned on reminding him that he used them to buy his tractor, any time he asked for them. Rather than us being the bad guys, we would remind him that it was his choice to get rid of them for the tractor.
He enjoyed playing with the tractor before bed and we made a fuss over how cool it was. His bedtime routine went normally, but as soon as we laid him down, he asked for his raffies. As planned, we reminded him about paying for the tractor with them and told him they were not here. There was crying. There was stalling and asking for other things. It took about 1.5 hours for him to finally fall asleep. He wasn't crying that whole time, but would cry out here and there. When he would cry a lot, we'd go in and check on him. We talked about playing with the tractor the next day, offered stuffed animals, and prayed with him. He did calm down and fall asleep without the pacifiers.
His first nap without the raffies was actually the hardest time during this process. Day sleep is naturally lighter than night sleep, so this can be expected. It's already harder for children to settle down to sleep during the day. Add in the fact that he no longer has his source of comfort and it was extra tough. He cried more here than any other time. I again kept reminding him that we no longer had the raffies and talked about the neat tractor. It took a good 1.5 hours again before he calmed down and went to sleep. This didn't leave time for much of a nap. I wanted to make sure he got at least a cat nap, though, so I let him sleep a little later than I normally would.
Side note: I'm glad we no longer had the raffies in the house. For one thing, I could honestly tell him that we didn't have them. He knew it was true because he's the one who handed them over to the cashier. It usually made him stop crying when he remembered that. Secondly, it can be tempting to give in and give the pacifiers back if they're in the house. I'm so happy I wasn't able to give in, because it got better from here on.
He asked for his raffies once, cried for a few minutes, and then was out. The short nap that day probably contributed because he was just so tired. He was asleep within 15 minutes and slept all night.
As I said before, day sleep is lighter. Even so, he didn't cry much for this nap. However, this is when the major stalling and crazy requests started. He needed water. He needed new pajamas. He needed a different pillow. Etc. Once we got past that and got him settled down, he went right to sleep. He got a solid 1-hour nap before I woke him up at the normal time.
It kept getting better and better. He didn't even mention his raffies this time. I think he had accepted it and was just now trying to figure out how to move forward without them. There wasn't much crying on Night 3. He played in his crib for a bit (which is completely normal) and then went to sleep. He slept all night.
He again didn't mention his raffies at all, but he wanted a new shirt after I had put him in bed. There was nothing wrong with the shirt he had on. Therefore, I did not give in. Stalling and giving demands is behavioral. This means it will continue until you address the behavior. When a child is stalling at bedtime, giving in only encourages the behavior.
I explained that he was not getting a new shirt because the one he had on was fine. He did cry, but it was a cry of not getting his way, not one of need. It lasted about 10 minutes and then he calmed down, played for a few minutes, and was out. He had a great 2-hour nap that day.
Bedtime was back to normal by Night 4! He didn't ask for his raffies at all and didn't give any crazy demands since I had not given in at nap time. He played in his crib for a little bit, as normal, and then was out for the night.
It took about 3 days for him to get completely used to sleeping without his raffies. Each day and night was easier as he got more comfortable. There was really only one day of crying, then he was okay. When he did ask about the pacifiers, I was able to remind him of his choice to buy the tractor with them. This usually calmed him down as he knew the raffies weren't even in the house.
He played with his "tractor" (and still does) all. the. time. He loves that thing! It was a great symbol of his choice during the day, and served as an easy reminder when needed at bedtime. He's so happy with his new toy and is proud of himself for being a big boy, sleeping without raffies. We haven't looked back since!
There are a few key things I want to mention. In order for this to work, the child has to be old enough to understand the transaction. I wouldn't suggest using it much younger than 2.5 years. Anytime between 2.5 and 3 would be ideal. Also, letting him pick something out gives him ownership of the transaction, which is important. You can, of course, guide his decision within your price range, but it should ultimately be his choice. It has to be something he truly wants and will be worth the prized possession that he's giving up.
If you'd rather choose the toy, or your child is younger than 2.5, you may consider doing the Pacifier Fairy instead. At bedtime, you'd have him place all of his pacifiers in a box. Tell him that when he's sleeping, the pacifier fairy will come and take the pacifiers. She will leave a special prize in return. Be prepared for protest at bedtime. Then throw the pacifiers away! When he asks for them, you can remind him that the Pacifier Fairy took them and gave him X instead.
Getting rid of the pacifier can be a very tough event that lasts weeks and causes lots of tears. However, letting the child take ownership of the event helps him get over it much quicker and easier.
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant