Pacifier Practicalities

Babies and toddlers are lucky when they find a way to soothe themselves early in life.  Many young children soothe themselves orally with the use of a pacifier or a thumb.  Parents have often seen the power of a well placed “paci”, and when children are very young the adults around them are happy to encourage sucking as a method for keeping calm.

As children get older there tends to be more discomfort at the continued use of this strategy for self-soothing. The early childhood staff at Harley discussed the various approaches to thumb / paci use, and thought we would share our thoughts on how to approach your child’s use of these methods throughout the early years.

Both the ECFE early childhood staff  and the American Dental Association (ADA) agree that sucking on a thumb or pacifier is a good strategy for self-soothing. The ADA states that a parent should discourage the use of this habit when the child turns four years old; due to it’s potential at that time to negatively affect teeth.

A child is likely to naturally move away from this habit between the ages of two and four, because the focus for the child becomes more about exploring the world around her. This deepening interest in the world and active participation in activities tend to shove out the habit of sucking on a thumb or pacifier.

When a child has found a habit for soothing that is successful and helps her to meet the world with more strength, we as parents can feel comfortable encouraging that habit, even in the face of comments from disapproving strangers or relatives. Babies and toddlers face a lot of challenging situations because so many things are new and difficult for them. If a child has found a way to meet those challenges, we can allow that strategy to work for them.

As your child gets older,she is well served by gently setting limits on where she can use the pacifier or suck her thumb. A child is most likely to need the comfort when she is tired or facing some stress. We can first limit its use in situations where the child feels comfortable and there is little stress.  In a situation where a parent limits the use of a pacifier, it is highly recommended that something is provided to replace the support and comfort that the pacifier or thumb sucking represents. A stuffed animal, doll or “lovey” can be encouraged. If your child is asked to leave her pacifier at home, give her the option to choose a “special spot” for the cherished object while it is left at home. In this way, your child will know that it is safe at and waiting for her during her nap or bed time.

If the limit setting is pushed too early, and it is difficult for your child to comply, it is likely that she is not yet developmentally ready to let go of this method for soothing herself.  If your child is not yet four years old, feel free to take a break from this limit setting and come back to it a little later. Your child will ultimately be able to stop this habit, but it may be more on her time schedule than yours.

Children are designed to push themselves and to grow up. They do this by meeting challenges and stress every day. They persevere through difficulty, they struggle through problems and they push themselves to achieve regularly. If your toddler has found a strategy to help her through these early-year uphill climbs, be proud of her ability to self-soothe. She will meet the challenge of shifting her habits when her age and her development allow her to be ready for it.