Some people say that the easiest way to give something up, is to never start it in the first place. But I would argue, that sometimes there is a very compelling reason to start using a soother, or pacifier. My son was born prematurely, and using the soother was helpful in his development of the sucking reflex. For others, it may be the best tool for helping baby settle down. Sucking is the way a baby soothes. If a soother is not used, baby could self-soothe by using their thumb, which can be a lot harder habit to quit. It has also been shown that babies falling asleep with a soother, is at less risk of SIDS.
I mention this because I don't want you to feel bad about your decision to start using a soother in the first place. We as parents do not need another reason to beat up on ourselves. Regardless of the reason you started using the soother, there will come a time when you are ready for your child to transition away from it. Here are some common questions and our answers:
Q: At what age should my child stop using the soother?
A: A baby no longer needs sucking as a developmental need by about a year. But most experts agree that your child has developed different ways to manage their distress by around age 2. In order to protect your child's incoming permanent teeth, as well as her speech and chewing abilities, both of which are affected by an overbite, open bite or crossbite which can be caused by the soother. So best practice is to start limiting the soother around age 2, and try to phase it out all together before your child turns 4.
Q: Gradual or cold turkey?
A: There are some pros and cons to either method. We share some thoughts on each strategy here:
The gradual method
This approach is best if your child is not to keen on changes. It gives him a chance to gradually get used to the idea of using the soother less and less. One way to use this method is to start limiting when and where the soother can be used. For instance, you can limit it to the crib/bedtime only. Or say that we can't use it outside the house. You are gradually releasing his dependance on the soother as a way to manage distress. Show him other ways he can soothe himself when upset or tired, like coming to you for cuddles, or cuddling a plush toy, listening to a song he likes or taking three deep breaths (or however many he needs).
When we asked our parent group about their experience, one spin on the gradual approach was to cut a small piece off the tip of the soother, and every few days cut off a bit more. Eventually your child will find it too uncomfortable to suck on, and since all the soothers are "broken" you can throw them out together.
The three day method
Sometimes, making the transition quick and final can be the better way to go. To use this method, start by telling your child that you are have noticed that she'd like to do some things that show she is getting to be a big girl. Tell her that you think this is a great idea, and that in three days, it will be time to say good bye to her soothers. Tell her that you know she can do it, and that you will all be there to help her. Keep this talk short and to the point, and repeat it a couple of times that day.
The next day, repeat the same talk twice, in the morning and evening, and say that tomorrow is the day we say good bye to her soothers.
On the third day, it's time to gather up the soothers. Make it a scavenger hunt and let her help you find them all. Once they are all gathered, continue with the next step!
What to do next?
Whether you decided to take a gradual approach, or a more time sensitive one, there will come a time when you are finally ready for the last step: getting rid of the soothers. Here are some ideas for how you can make that last, hard step a little gentler:
- If your family uses traditions of Santa or the Tooth fairy, those are great ways to convince your child to finally give up their soother. Say that Santa collects soothers to give to new babies, and in return gives a toy to the older child. One parent in our group mentioned how they started talking about the tooth fairy lots, and how she likes to collect soothers because it shows that the child cares about his teeth, which means she will come back and visit once the child starts losing their baby teeth. They then collected all the soothers in a box which they decorated and then mailed to the tooth fairy (using grandma's address).
- If you prefer not to use those traditions, a similar approach can be taken by saying that the dentist or doctor collects soothers for babies and use the incentive of a toy as a trade. Or if your child is learning about recycling, ask that you put them in the recycling bin so that new soothers can be made for babies.
You know your child better than anyone, and will know which approach will resonate the best.
Getting over the hump
I can pretty much guarantee, that regardless of the method you used, or how much your child wanted that new toy when she traded in her soothers - she will have some trouble getting past not having them around come bedtime, or whenever your child tended to use it the most. There will be some anxiety and stress, make sure your child knows that you understand he is upset and that you are there to comfort him. Remind her again about why she gave the soothers up. Hold her space, and usually it only takes a few days to get over that hump!