With a pacifier, letting nature take its course

When you give a child a pacifier, you know you are making a devil’s bargain. You gain some desperately needed peace and quiet, but you know at some point in the distant future you are setting yourself up for a major battle when the time comes to take it away.

Well, this past week our day of reckoning came. We are a pacifier-free household. And it has been a very rough week.


I remember reading a parenting book before my first child was born. In general, I tried to avoid these books, which I feel often carry a judgmental tone on proper parenting techniques that I don’t necessarily agree with. But I figured I should read at least one, so I found the least judgmental one I could find (Baby 411).

The author made a strong argument about why pacifiers were terrible things, since the baby would quickly come to depend on it to settle down and fall asleep and would have a hard time learning to do without it. Better to teach the kid to “self-soothe” from the get-go.

This made logical sense and as a naive parent I initially thought that would be great idea. However, after weeks of sleep deprivation and a baby girl who turned out to have a tough time at night, I changed my mind about the pacifier in a heartbeat. It was salvation to two exhausted parents who were desperate for rest. I knew there would be a tough battle in the future, but I willingly made the compromise. Everyone was better off.

A few years later, when my daughter turned two and her baby brother was just a few months away from being born, I decided the time had come to take the pacifier away. I figured better to do it then as opposed to waiting for the new baby to arrive, and the baby sitter had already gotten her to nap a few times without it.  So, we just went cold turkey and took the pacifier away

She was mad the first day or two, but then stopped asking for the pacifier. But the next two weeks were hell – she just refused to go to sleep, constantly insisting on getting out of bed or wanting a song or music. She had to learn to fall asleep all over again. I still did not regret giving it to her as a baby, but it took a while for life to return to normal.

Things followed a different path with my son, however. Unlike his sister, who is generally willing to go with the flow, my son is much harder to redirect. When he gets his heart set on something, it is extremely difficult to dissuade him.

He loved his pacifier, and when he turned two, it was very clear that going “cold turkey” the way his sister did was not going to be effective. We kept finding reasons to delay taking it away, since it never seemed like a good time to have such a major battle.

We did start putting restrictions on it, however. First, the pacifier was no longer allowed downstairs. Then, when he turned three, I took a lanyard and strapped it to the edge of his bed. This was actually more related to me being sick and tired of having him wake me up and find it in the middle of the night when he would lose it, but the lanyard severely limited its range. He could only use it while sitting on his bed. But he was just as devoted to it as ever.

A few months ago, I thought about puncturing it. The idea behind puncturing the pacifier is that it will not have the satisfying sucking effect that babies like so much. I resisted doing this with my daughter (I can’t help feeling like there is something underhanded about this technique), but my son was so attached to it that I was willing to consider it.

However, to my surprise, I discovered that he had already chewed a hole in it. It had become punctured long ago, but there had been no diminishment of his attachment to it. I became even more convinced that trying to take it away was going to be a nightmare.

My wife and I agreed that the only other option left was to let nature simply take its course – he would eventually chew it off, and that would be that. It meant we would have no control over its timing, but it seemed like the best.

Over the next few months, I would remind him that at some point the pacifier would break, and he would not have it anymore. He would look at me, nod, and say, “I know.” And then suck carefully on it.

Well, last Sunday, the inevitable happened – it broke.

The pacifier had finally broken

The pacifier had finally broken

It happened in the morning, and I looked at him and said, “That’s it.  It’s broken now.” He looked at me, said “Okay. I know,” and then went downstairs to get ready for swimming lessons.

Obviously, it wasn’t going to be that easy. That night at bedtime, he ran into his room, grabbed the pacifier and stuck it in his mouth. He then turned and looked at me, horrorstruck. The reality was setting in.

But to my amazement, he didn’t cry. He didn’t get mad at me. He asked once or twice if we could “buy a new one tomorrow,” but I explained to him that no, it was broken, and he was a big boy now.

Bed time this week was awful. He was constantly getting out of bed, claiming he wasn’t tired, wanting to go downstairs, saying he was hungry. There were tantrums and yelling. Bedtime has ranged from 45 minutes to an hour and a half every night.

But there hasn’t been one word about the pacifier.

He knew the pacifier was going to break some day. He saw it tearing, and we had conversations that when it was gone, that would be it. The key thing here is that I wasn’t the enemy. He wasn’t blaming me for taking the pacifier away. It broke, and sometimes unfortunate things happen, and that is life.

Sure, he still needed to learn to go to bed, and that was hard, but it has been much easier to help him through where I can be on his side and not the person who took his precious pacifier away. It’s like the neutral third party technique of toddler negotiation, but in this case, I really was a third party.

Today is one week since the pacifier broke. It’s also the first night that he didn’t keep getting out of bed. It was a long Sunday, he didn’t nap, and he was exhausted. He got into bed, briefly asked for music, and was asleep 10 minutes later.

I’m sure we will still have some rough bed times in the coming weeks, but overall, I’m happy with how it had played out. Every child – and every parent – is different. For him, I think this was the way to go.

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