Pacifier Weaning 3-Year-Olds: More Difficult Than it Seems

How should parents handle pacifier addiction?


I should have listened to the warning sent my way as I sat bleary eyed in the hospital, clutching my newborn baby. The lactation consultant advised me, "Don't give him a pacifier because it will cause nipple confusion."

It started out innocently enough, in the wee hours of the morning. In an exhausted state, it seemed like a God-send. My crying baby would go from screaming to peacefully sleeping with the quick insertion of the pacifier. Luckily, it did not cause any nipple confusion and we were able to nurse successfully. I began to question just how bad such a useful tool could be?

Fast forward three years and I have a small addict on my hands. Don't judge me, but my younger son is a bit of a fiend when it comes to his pacifier. He has given it many pet names such a "binky" and "paci." It is his favorite bedtime accessory and he wouldn't dare settle into sleep without it. The slightest whimper in the night is quickly silenced as he slips it between his lips.

If he had it his way, he would have that sucker with him at all times. He throws pretty impressive hissy fits if he we leave the house without his beloved binky. As he approaches his third birthday, I am a total loss on how to help him overcome his dependency.

I know that it's imperative that he give it up, though. There are horror stories of extended pacifier use causing all kinds of dental nightmares. From cavities to crooked teeth, it seems to reek havoc in a little one's mouth. Not to mention the potential psychological damage that could fall his way if he enters school with a nasty pacifier obsession. Call me paranoid but we already dodge dirty looks if he has it in his mouth in a public place.

I have heard stories of children who outgrow the pacifier on their own. They hand it over to their mama with pride and never look back. Somehow, I don't foresee that in our future. My fear is that this is going to be a knock down, drag out fight.

Several methods are out there to help  wean little ones from their paci peacefully. One mom told me about the "Pacifier Fairy" who visits in the night and swaps all the child's pacifiers for a brand new toy. Another mom took her child to Build-a-Bear Workshop and forced her child to tuck the binky into the stuffing of a bear so that she could still sleep with it near at night.

We have decided to try a four-step program to slowly wean my toddler from his fixation. We will gradually eliminate where he is allowed to have access to his binky. So far, we have restricted him from using it in public. Before we step out of the car, he has to hide in a special place. Next, he will have to leave his paci at home when we leave the house. Then soon after, he will only be able to use it in his bed. Hopefully, we can easily take it away at bedtime soon after that.

Who am I kidding? Despite my positive outlook on life, I know that this is going to be a hard transition for my little guy. Is there a support group out there for parents of children who have a pacifier habit? I can see myself now, sitting in a smoke filled room and introducing myself; "Hi, my name is Leigh and my son has a pacifier addiction." Kind of like Al-Anon.

Does your child have a pacifier problem? Did you successfully wean your little one from their binky? How did you help him or her to let it go? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Please. I need them.

Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 11, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Shelly, what a good idea. Often with my girls, the "you're a big girl" message gets rejected and they say they want to be babies again. (they are six). I was lucky, in a way; one daughter didn't want a pacifier, the other gave it up when she discovered her fingernails. Ah, well. I'm hoping neither smokes.
Sue Anderson April 11, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I couldn't get any of my kids to take a pacifier, so I've got no solutions for you! =)
Erinbjenkins April 11, 2012 at 07:10 PM
My son only took a paci for a few weeks when he was a month old,but he really didnt care about it so i dropped it. But now that he is 1 and a half, he is OBSESSED with his bankey. He wants to take it everywhere. i can only imagine how difficult it is to take away something that is so ingrained like the paci. i guess you just have to say no and let them scream.
Stephanie Gross April 11, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Our daughter LOVED her Pacimal. For those who don't know, Pacimals are pacifiers that are attached to a small stuffed animal. Hers was a giraffe named Janet. So everywhere we went, so did Janet. After a nasty bout of hand-foot-and-mouth disease when she was around 20-months-old, the paci addiction ended. At the time it was too painful for her to drink or eat, let alone suck on a paci. Since she didn't want it for those five or six days, we decided it would be a good chance to take it away completely. When she started feeling better, she did ask for it a couple of times and we gave her just the giraffe (the paci detaches easily), but she wasn't interested in the stuffed animal. Now she is 2 years, 3 months and has developed an addiction to stickers. She LOVES to have one (or five) on her arms at all times.
Leigh Hewett April 11, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I guess that I should count myself lucky that he attached to something that isn't physically attached to him.
Leigh Hewett April 11, 2012 at 08:24 PM
The fact that your girl was 4 when she gave it up gives me hope. My instinct is to give him the time that he needs to let it go gradually.
Leigh Hewett April 11, 2012 at 08:25 PM
I'm such a softie...cold turkey seems just so daunting. I love the clever idea of dropping them in an envelope and sending them away, though.
Leigh Hewett April 11, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Okay, I'm going to do some serious prep work on this. I needed this little pep talk. Thanks.
Madeline Darnell April 11, 2012 at 08:27 PM
I'm a grandmother now, but two of my children were avid thumbsuckers, right from the womb, and I wished they had pacifier attachments instead. You can physically take them away, but not a thumb. However, I found a very useful approach in a book that is still around called David Decides: A story for children, a guide for parents. This approach could also be useful for helping a child who is soothed by a pacifier.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 11, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Madeline, I went through elementary school with a boy who sucked his thumb when he was under stress. He didn't even know he was doing it. The rest of the class would watch and watch for that thumb to go in his mouth when he was taking a test and then, bingo! In it would go...He was teased about it, because this was happening in fourth and fifth grade! Give me a pacifier instead of a thumb any day. I can recall a cousin using bitter orange on her daughter's thumb. What is bitter orange, by the way?
Linda Labbo April 12, 2012 at 01:28 AM
I think once they bite through the thing, it should just go away! Maybe give it to him when he's really hungry so that might happen? Just kidding. Reduce it in stages. Only at home. Only in the Car. Only in the bed. And then bury the things! They will have served their purpose! BTW, great article.
Risa Haynes April 12, 2012 at 04:23 AM
My daughter only took a paci one day in the hospital and flatly refused it from there on out. She does has a love affair with those cheap pseudo travel pillows that Target sells in the dollar section a few times a year, so I stock up when they have them. But even with that we've limited the pillow to the crib and the car (there's a car pillow that stays there). My cousin had a paci addict on her hands, so she did something no one else on here has mentioned yet. She gradually cut the tip off the paci little by little over the course of a week or 2 until there was nothing left to suck on and her daughter was over it when she couldn't be satisfied by it anymore. Good luck - and remember that kids are so much more adaptable than we are as adults. A few rough days at most and your paci problems are over.
Shelly April 12, 2012 at 04:56 AM
You're on the same track I was. The secret pocket in the car, etc. If you make a production out of the divorce from the binki, I feel you will succeed like we did.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 12, 2012 at 11:45 AM
Yeah, when you bury them, you can have a little ceremony.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 12, 2012 at 11:46 AM
You are very resourceful, Shelly. Where were you when my girls were little?
Maggie April 12, 2012 at 01:06 PM
You know what, Leigh - thinking about it now I have really sweet fond memories of Sage and her attachment to her pa-pa. She actually had 2 - one "eatin' pa-pa" that was a normal paci and one "broken pa-pa" which was really worn out and broken but she would rub in on her nose while the other one was in her mouth. Both kinds are in her treasure box now. The images of her in my mind of with her pacis all snuggled up in bed and eyes slowly closing are priceless. We tried to get rid of them when she was 3 - and I think after 3 we decided only at bedtime and it was fine with her - but it lasted until she turned 4 - actually 2 months after 4. We did it gradually - almost a year of "you're getting to be a big girl, Sage, cousin April doesnt have a paci anymore, etc. etc." until she was ready to go through the emotional challenge with us. I just dont have the heart for cold turkey because it happened to me with my silky (was told I left it at a friend's house next town over) and I still feel that pain.
Andrea April 12, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Thumbuddy To Love makes a great product called The Binky Fairy to help wean pacifier sucking gently and effectively. Google Thumbuddy To Love or get it on Amazon.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 12, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Andrea, I don't know about the product, but the name is genius.
Julie Crowe April 12, 2012 at 05:46 PM
As a nurse practitioner who works in peds, I never thought I'd have a 2 year old with a paci, much less, a 4 year old!! Yes, my daughter didn't give hers up until she was 4! At that point, she'd been in full time daycare more or less for 2 years, and she never had it there, only at bedtime and occasionally on long road trips. We almost got rid of it at 2, and honestly, my husband wasn't as worried about it as I was. After reading all the pediatric literature I could, stating that the risk of dental abnormalities, etc, if only using it for sleep, etc, (up to age 5!) was minimal, I kind of stopped worrying so much about it. We got rid of hers in part by accident. We took a trip and she was so excited she forgot about it on the first night, then the second, and when she asked for it on the third day, I told her I didn't have it (which was a lie, I had it in my bag the whole time). Anyway, she didn't bring it up again until the first night we were back home, and then she REALLY wanted it. It was a tough bedtime for sure, as I held my ground, but that was it, and she honestly never brought it up again. So I feel like we could have done it sooner, I should have given her more credit. So those of you struggling with it, as long as they are using it for times in need of pacification (bedtime, car rides), there really isn't much of a risk, and also, you shouldn't necessarily dread the inevitable. Chances are, your kid will surprise you and give it up easier than you expect.
Leigh Hewett April 12, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Julie, you are my new best friend!
Leigh Hewett April 12, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I will have to check his out! Thanks for passing it on.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) April 12, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Julie, you have so much common sense and compassion. Will you run for President?
Karen April 12, 2012 at 08:22 PM
If he responds well to stickers try a reward chart such as http://www.victoriachartcompany.com/bigstarchart.html - it can be cutomized for his needs and has worked for many children - good luck !
Scarlet Buckley April 13, 2012 at 12:18 AM
I have no experience with giving up the paci, but I did just wean my little girl who will be 3 in a week. It was cold turkey all the way, because we had such a power struggle every time I tried to gradually reduce the nursing. Cold turkey seemed to work well. i think it really depends on the kid. She responded well to the "bye-bye nursy" party we threw for her. She also got a special gift a few days later, which she knew was arriving in the mail. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Good luck, Leigh. I'm sure your sweet little one will get through it, and so will you! And for the record, i was a closet thumbsucker for way too long, until I got a retainer to correct the damage my thumb had caused. So in the end, it's probably good that you can make the paci just go away.
Julie Crowe April 14, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Awww, thanks you two!! I will say working in peds has given me some reassurance when it comes to my own children. You definitely learn what is normal, common, developmental behavior, and what REALLY stands out. Good luck, Leigh!!
Caroline U April 16, 2012 at 03:20 AM
Oh I wish I could be more helpful here but I HAVE heard that the "Paci Fairy" technique works well. I think we all have our battles with various things from picky eaters, to pacifiers to sippy cups! If it's not one thing it's another. I had lots of trouble getting my oldest two to switch from a sippy cup to a regular cup. I ended up just taking them away one day, which may have not been the best method but it turned out okay in the end!
A Luckey April 16, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Though my children gave theirs up before they turned one, the trick for us was to first snip a little off the end of the pacifier so it wouldn't feel the same when they used it. They didn't like the feel of that in their mouth so they easily gave it up. We did this at the advice of a friend whose son wouldn't give his up and he was 2. They snipped a bit off and blamed it on the family dog. He loved the dog and thought it was funny so he didn't mind. They kept snipping more and more off until he finally didn't want it anymore.
Ramon Wallace October 22, 2012 at 11:53 PM
My proem is that I have a three year old addict (now restricted to her room only) and a. 18 moth old. I would love to do cold turkey bit she keeps stealing them from her sister.
nicky kotsonas February 09, 2013 at 06:27 PM
I Just had to tell you about this experience! My daughter was 3 years old and addicted to her pacifier. I could not for the life of me take it away from her without her throwing a tantrum. A friend of mine bought the book called The Paci Pixie where a fairy comes to the child during the night and takes the pacifier from the child while giving a gift at the same time. I read this book and played the song a few times to get my daughter used to the fact that the Paci Pixie was coming to take her pacifier to give to the new babies who needed it. Well the night came where the pixie came to the house and in the morning, my daughter was so proud of the fact that she was a big girl and gave up her pacifier!!! Check the book out! It was a life saver for us! www.indigopixies.com
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) February 09, 2013 at 09:32 PM
This is great. Thanks for sharing.


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