I get a lot of questions about when and how to breakup with pacifiers. Both of my girls had a major attachment to the pacifier! I knew early on I was going to need to come up with an exit strategy. Addison’s sleep was so challenging from early on that I just couldn’t fathom breaking up with the pacifier when we first attempted sleep training at 4 months. We stopped the “pacifier-pop” during the night, but that was as far as I could take it. Ainsley was such a dreamy sleeper, sleeping through the night before 2 months, that it just didn’t make sense to rock the boat at 4 months. So with both girls I went to plan B – waiting until they were old enough to fully understand the breakup.
I spoke with my pediatrician and pediatric dentist and both seemed to be of the same opinion – to avoid the pacifier causing permanent changes to the mouth, I needed to limit the pacifier by age 2 and dispose of it by age 3 (at the latest). Since it was clear very early on that my oldest has an insane event memory recall and is very analytical, I knew honesty would be the best policy. I decided to go with a no BS plan. You can read the details here.
It worked like a charm with my first and last weekend I implemented the plan with my second. Even though I know what I’m doing, like any parent, I was nervous about making a big change that had the risk of sleep disturbance. Many of you sweetly cheered me on after seeing my Facebook post, and I’ve gotten several messages asking how it all went down so today I wanted to share the details.
When she turned two, Ainsley’s pacifiers were limited to the bed and the car. I will admit that we weren’t as strict about this with her as we were with my first. There were times I’d look over and realize she had it in during the day. This made me a bit more nervous about the permanent breakup when she turned three. Since her older sister had already been through this processes and remembered it well, we’ve basically talked about throwing the binkies away at three since the moment she turned two. Over the last six months, I tried to mention it once a week or so. I would ask her, “What happens when you turn 3?” She would respond, “The passy goes in the trashy.” Sometimes this was said with excitement of knowing the answer, and other times it was said with an incredibly sad face. Over the last month, we pretty much talked about it daily. We got the grandparents excitedly talking about it, as well as the teachers at preschool. Everyone was spreading the good word. Preparation is key.
Day 1 – 3rd Birthday
When I got Ainsley out of her crib and wished her happy birthday, that pacifier was firmly planted in her mouth. I knew I would get those suckers in the trash before we opened presents, but I wanted to give her a chance to do it on her own. She was immediately eager to go downstairs to start her birthday. I told her I wanted to brush her hair first. As she stood on her stool looking in the mirror while I brushed her hair, she saw that pacifier in her mouth and said in a somewhat sad voice, “Mommy, it’s time to throw my binkies away.” I said in a super excited voice, “I know! Woohoo! Let’s throw the binkies away when we go downstairs and then you get to open your birthday presents!” She smiled and said, “Okay!” She marched down those stairs, and threw the pacifiers right in the trash and then tore open her presents.
Once during breakfast she asked about them and I gently reminded her they were gone. At nap time she said she wanted her binkies back and I said, “You’re three now, you don’t need those binkies!” She didn’t cry, but just chatted away in her crib through nap time. So, no nap. At bedtime she asked about the binkies with a little more stress in her voice. I stayed positive about the fact that she didn’t need them. Sweet little girl was nervous and started some stall tactics… needed an extra potty break and even tried to say, “I think we forgot to floss.” You know they are stalling when they are asking to floss! After I finally got her settled in bed, she called for me one more time, asking for the binkies and saying she thought she had hid one in her bed, but couldn’t find it. (She had even taken her pillow out of the case thinking she had stashed one in the pillowcase. They are so smart!) I assured her she didn’t need it and let her know I knew she could do it and it was time to go to sleep. She was exhausted from a very eventful birthday and no nap, so she fell asleep and not a peep all night.
About 20 minutes into nap time she was hysterical. Daddy went in and held her for a few minutes in the chair and then put her back in her crib drowsy and relaxed, but awake. She fell asleep and took her nap. At bedtime she asked me when she would turn two again so she could get her binkies back. I kept my upbeat tone as I let her know they weren’t coming back and assured her that I knew she could do it. A few tears streamed down my stoic little lady’s face and I almost wanted to cry myself. She chatted away for a bit and then 45 minutes later she was hysterical. When I went in she said, “I’m having a hard time.” True tears were flowing down her cheeks… I find crying so much worse when there are true tears involved. I sat with her in the chair for about 5 minutes. I rubbed her back and got her to a very relaxed state. As I told her it was time to go to sleep, the silent tears started again. I told her I’d rub her back for a few minutes in the crib, but then she needed to go to sleep. I rubbed her back and her sweet little sad cheek for a few minutes and then walked out. She was quiet and went to sleep.
About 15 minutes before her clock turned yellow to let her know it’s okay to get up, she was once again in hysterics. I went it and she told me she missed her binkies. We cuddled in the chair until the clock turned yellow. Side note: She asked to read a book and I said no since the clock was blue. She went to preschool and the report was that she took a good nap without too much extra support! At bedtime last night, there was the same discussion about wanting the binkies back, but this time without the tears. After we read books I told her that tonight I wanted her to go to sleep without crying for mommy and I wanted her to stay quiet until the clock turned yellow. She said it was hard to sleep without the binkies and she wanted to call for me. I told her I wasn’t going to come hold her tonight and now it’s her job to sleep and stay quiet until the clock turns yellow. I was super positive, but firm… no negotiating. She went to sleep with no crying or calling out. It’s now 10 minutes before the clock will turn yellow and I haven’t heard a peep.
- Follow through is everything. When my mother’s heart was feeling sad and guilty, I reminded myself that I was only doing what I told Ainsley I would do. I had prepared her so there were no surprises and now it was my job to follow through. Following through with our kids gives them confidence, makes them feel secure, and builds trust.
- Extra support during big transitions is okay. Similar to my advice when it comes to traveling or illness, it’s okay to provide some extra love and support when times are tough. The key is to always give them a chance to do it as they normally would and then step your way up the support ladder until you find a comfortable spot to stop. In this case, I knew I was not going to hold her until she fell all the way to sleep. When she was struggling, I wanted to be there for her, but not create a new issue. I knew I was willing to get her to a drowsy and relaxed state, but I was going to make sure she fell asleep on her own in the crib without me in there.
- Always keep in mind that extra support can become a slippery slope. Kids are so smart and they will take what they can get. For example, when she asked me to read books while I comforted her in the chair, the answer was no. You want to be there for them, but not create new stall tactics or other things you need to remove to get things back to normal.
- Get back to the normal routine (rules) as soon as possible. I was comfortable providing some extra support and cuddles for two nights. At this age, I think three nights can make a habit, so on night three I knew I wanted things back to normal. I have never not followed through with this child when it comes to her sleep so she knew I meant what I said when I told her I wanted her to sleep on her own last night. If she had cried for me, I would have done a quick check to remind her we weren’t going to cuddle in the chair and she needed to go to sleep, and then I would have let her work through it. I’ve had to do this with her a couple of times after illnesses and it works well.
As I finished typing this, I heard, “Mommy, my clock is awake! It’s time to wake up!!” Daddy got her up and she just walked in and said excitedly, “Mommy, I did it. I slept all night without my binky and I didn’t cry.” I smothered her in kisses and told her how proud I am of her. She did it – the whole night without a peep. For the most part, the pacifier transition is now over. My baby is a big 3 year old and we no longer have pacifiers in the house!