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Reality Check: Quitting the Pacifier

Q. I thought my son would lose interest in his pacifier, but now, at 3, he's more attached than ever. How do I get him to quit?

I'd hoped that by now my home would be pacifier-free -- that I'd have successfully weaned two children from its enticing grip. But this isn't quite the case. Eleanor, who's 4 next month, is still clinging to hers.

My husband and I are planning to start a weaning process next week, but we've been saying that since she turned 3. There's always been a reason we haven't: the stress of toilet training, the transition to a big-kid bed, starting preschool, starting summer day camp....But we'll strike next week. I swear.

Based on our success at weaning Madeline, now 7, when she was 3, here's the method I suggest:

1. Months before you take the pacifier away, enforce the rule that it's just for naps and nighttime, preferably only in bed. Upright, wide-awake pacifier use becomes something that's simply not done. Other times, put it where your child can't get to it or even see it. There will be crying, so divert attention with a story or favorite game.

2. After a few weeks of this, withdraw the pacifier during naptime. He'll cry, but if he's tired enough and still needs his nap, he'll fall asleep anyway.

3. Encourage a relationship with another sleepytime love object, such as a stuffed animal. Let a couple of weeks go by.

4. Then, during V/P (victory over pacifier) week, institute an every-other-night usage policy -- Sunday night he has it, Monday he doesn't, and so on. This gives him time to find out he can actually make it through the night without his pacifier -- something he doesn't know right now. If you think alternating nights will just confuse him, go right to no pacifier at all. The most important element in any weaning process is your own resolve -- your child will sense whether or not you have it.

5. The following week, throw out the pacifier with a little farewell ceremony, after which you can buy him a present to mark the occasion.

But be understanding. Children who become attached to a pacifier (many don't) evidently have a real need for extended "non-nutritive sucking," as the experts call it. Even if he doesn't cry and carry on, he may still keep asking for it for several weeks after you've gotten rid of the thing. Calmly remind him of the goodbye ceremony and his new status as big boy, and then change the subject.

No need to feel particularly guilty about taking it away, though -- just remember that everybody eventually relinquishes their treasured pacifiers. Besides, all good things must come to an end.

Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine.