Your child’s pacifier is one of their first best friends in the world; they can offer comfort, interaction, communication and help reduce stress, just like any best friend would. There does come a time, though, when it’s important to consider reducing your child’s exposure to their pacifier or binky because it can begin posing serious issues when it comes to the alignment of their jaws, mouth, and teeth.
Effects of Thumb-Sucking and Pacifiers
Your child begins sucking their fingers sometimes even before they are born. It’s a natural reflex that is developed and becomes a habit over the first couple years of a child’s life. The ideal time for a child to cease pacifier use it between the ages of two and four. Extended use past these ages can cause complications with jaw and bite formation. Many people who sucked on their thumbs or a pacifier tend to have issues with an open bite or overbite. Sucking on a pacifier or thumb can also affect the formation of incoming adult teeth that can grow in crookedly and may be difficult to resolve, even with advanced orthodontics. Furthermore, complicated jaw issues like a cross bite or misaligned jaw caused by the prolonged “thrusting” of the tongue can result in a life-long struggle with TMJ and other potentially painful jaw conditions. The habit of pacifier or thumb sucking becomes more and more difficult to break as a child grows, so it’s important to implement strategies around three years of age to wean them off. Early intervention is the best way to prevent serious orthodontic issues down the road.
Weaning off the Pacifier
Breaking off a child’s relationship with their binky is something every parent dreads. No parent wants to take away their child’s source of comfort, and the impending tantrums that may result are no fun for all parties involved. While some parents take the binky away and enact the “cold turkey” method, others prefer the gradual route and wean their child off over the course of days or weeks. Your pediatric dentist is a great source of information and advice when it comes to this stage in your child’s development as each child’s situation is different. If common methods aren’t effective, they can also recommend certain behavior modification techniques that can help your child end their dependence on their pacifier or thumb.
Importance of Timing
While it’s important to wean a child off of their pacifier and thumb-sucking before the age of four, the time in which to enact these changes is something very important to consider. If your child is going through a very pivotal change in their lives, including changes in the family, traveling, moving, new family members, the loss of a family member and other emotionally impactful situations, consider this when beginning the weaning process. Once you’ve begun the process, make sure everyone in a caregiver role is also onboard. Hide pacifiers in the house where the child doesn’t have access to them and make sure anyone that will be spending time alone with the child is aware of the new rules. Begin this process by taking the pacifier away during nap times, or only allow them to have it for a short while before giving it up.
Find New Sources of Comfort
If your child is struggling to wean off their pacifier, it’s a good idea to offer them alternative forms of comfort in their times of need. Some children respond well to verbal affirmation, while others still need a physical source of comfort. Honing in on the times your child asks for their pacifier the most can help avoid meltdowns too. Some children feel stressed during storms, inclement weather, or when they aren’t feeling well. Swapping out their binky for a heated blanket, activity or another toy can be a helpful way to get this process started. Have your child “trade in” their pacifier for a much more desired toy or game to play. This method will place a more positive twist on leaving their dear old friend behind as they grow away from the pacifier-sucking habit. Remember to use positive reinforcement throughout the process as much as possible. Losing their binky can be a stressful change for your child, but it shouldn’t be a punishment. Negative associations or fear of this change could result in your child displaying other kinds of negative behaviors that will make a pacifier seem like the tiny worry in comparison.
This method is great for the resistant toddler that is very resistant towards quitting his pacifier use. This method can turn into a game where their binky gradually becomes smaller and smaller until it’s no longer usable. By cutting down the size of the pacifier week after week, they can gradually become accustomed to less and less usage. Always be sure you are using sturdy pacifiers that won’t break off inside your child’s mouth. Cut a clean edge every time you want to make the pacifier smaller. As the binky proportions get smaller and smaller, the child will gradually begin to enjoy it less and less, therefore hopefully separating their level of comfort from their rubber friend. Gauge your child’s interest level and see how they do with the first round of snips; depending on how well they adjust to the first few rounds, you can accelerate the process to make the pacifier smaller and smaller over the course of several weeks. Refer to the graphic for more insight.
There is a method that will work best for you and your child, no matter how impossible the task of taking away a pacifier may seem. There will be some bumps along the way and some very tear-filled nightly rituals- but remember, this too shall pass. Parents have been enduring this phase of childrearing for centuries, and while is there is no one sure-fire way to deal with this situation, there is one exactly for your child. Speak with your pediatric dentist if you are preparing to start this process or if you’ve attempted and not been successful. They will be sure to give you the best advice possible on successfully weaning your child off the pacifier so you can finally say “bye-bye binky” for good!