Pull the plug on pacifiers
Ellen Boll, M.A., CCC-SLP
Manager, MedCentral Pediatric Therapy
Babies are born wanting to suck. Some even suck their thumbs or fingers before they're born. Beyond nutrition, sucking is often an important method of self-soothing - a comforting, familiar and calming mechanism in a new world. That's why many parents rank pacifiers as a must have, right up there with diaper wipes and baby monitors. But what do you do when the baby is 18 months old and running around all her waking hours with a binky in her mouth? As a speech language pathologist I've had numerous parents bring a child to me with concerns their child's speech is difficult to understand. As I watch the parent enter the treatment room and pull the pacifier from their child's mouth (and hide it in a purse) I have a strong suspicion what the cause might be!
Studies have shown that prolonged use of a pacifier can result in increased ear infections, temporary to permanent malformations of the teeth and palate and delays in speech and sound development. Have you ever tried to talk with your thumb in your mouth? Not too easy - and you already know how to talk! There are no hard and fast rules for pacifier use, but most speech language pathologists recommend stopping pacifier use by 1 year of age, which is when speech and language development begins to really hit the high mark. It's around this time that the switch is also made from bottle drinking to cup drinking.
But how do you get a child to give up their best friend? Wouldn't it be nice to wake up one day and the binky was gone and nobody noticed! That's unlikely to happen because many children come to rely on the pacifier to soothe them to sleep. Here are some methods that have worked for some parents:
- Prepare your child for throwing away the binky. Set a date (his birthday or Christmas) and count down the days until the binky is gone. Mark the calendar and let your child put stickers on the calendar for the countdown.
- Throw away all but one pacifier. Every day or so, without the child knowing you are doing it, hide the pacifier somewhere in the house. When the child asks for it, go on a "hunt" together to look for it. Allow her to find it for several days. Then one day hide it where it won't be found (like the garbage!) Tell your child it must be lost for good this time. Allow her to continue looking, but don't let her find it.
- Offer a substitute for comfort, such as holding a special doll or blanket, or even a cloth diaper.
- On an episode of Super Nanny, the family made a ritual of collecting all the pacifiers in the house with the help of the 2-year-old daughter and placing them in a beautiful gift bag with ribbons. They told the daughter the binky fairy was coming to get them, because other younger children needed them now. They went together and collected them all in the beautiful bag, repeating the explanation that they were going to other children who needed them more, and together they hung the bag on a tree in the backyard. The next morning, the bag was gone and another beautiful bag was in its place, filled with a stuffed toy for the two-year-old and a thank you note from the fairy.
Many children will respond to these suggestions and can get rid of their pacifiers with minimal tears. But even if your child cries for a day or two after the binky is gone, the long-term benefits are worth the short-term misery!