Kicking the Habit

by Christina Frank

Kicking the Habit

For some parents, breaking a 2-year-old’s dependence on her bottle or pacifier is an exercise in frustration. “I now wish I’d gotten rid of my daughter’s bottle at age 1, before she developed such a strong will, not to mention such an intense attachment to it,” says one Brooklyn dad of a 2 1/2-year-old. “At this point, I don’t know how we’re ever going to get her to give it up.”

Rest assured that peer pressure  — most likely at daycare or preschool  — will drive most kids to ditch their bottle or pacifier eventually, says Elaine Schulte, M.D., a pediatrician at Albany Medical Center, in New York. But there are good reasons to encourage your toddler to abandon plastic nipples even sooner. Drinking from a bottle while lying down predisposes some children to tooth decay and ear infections  — which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends eliminating bottles at around age 1. Evidence also indicates that prolonged sucking after age 3 can cause misalignment of the teeth and the jaw.

Though you should avoid weaning during times of stress, such as right after the birth of a sibling or during a move to a new house, there are ways to help your child give up the bottle or pacifier:

Most toddlers are able to understand a simple explanation, such as, “We need to keep your teeth healthy” or “You’re not a baby anymore, so we have to say goodbye to your paci.” She may not like it, but she’ll understand why.

While the cold-turkey approach works best for some kids, most pediatricians recommend a gradual one. Restrict your child’s bottle or pacifier to only before bedtime and nap time, then after a week or two, to right before bed (usually the most beloved time). In a few more weeks, take it away, and hold firm. You can also make a bottle seem less appealing by diluting the milk or juice with water.

When Belinda Barton, of Cutchogue, NY, decided that it was time for her 2-year-old, Niall, to give up his final bottle, she simply cut the top off of the nipple. “That way, it didn’t work anymore,” she says. Other parents turn the event into a celebration with cake and games, like a small family birthday party.

Don’t avoid talking about the missing comfort item if it’s clearly on your child’s mind. “You can say, ‘It must really upset you that your binkie’s gone away, but it had to, because big boys don’t use pacifiers,'” says Dr. Schulte.

No matter how traumatic it seems to force your child to give up the bottle or pacifier, it will probably be harder on you. Kids are even more resilient than you may think.