Most days, parenting is an exercise in humility and self doubt. But today I feel like the smartest goddamn mom on the planet. Why, you ask? Well, three days ago, after more than three and a half years, I got my daughter to give up her pacifier. Willingly. Tear-free. Flawlessly. That is not to say, however, that I am without humility and self-doubt in the pacifier department. Indeed, I tried and failed for years before this final act. Today I want to share all the things that didn't work, along with the things that did, because God knows I could have used an article like this.
I have two children, but weaning one off a pacifier is entirely new territory for me. My oldest hated the things. Early in his infancy I tried to get him to use a pacifier, not because I have any particular feelings about them but because I was tired of being one. So. Much. Breastfeeding. No dice, though. He eventually learned to suck his thumb for comfort, but he gave up on it by the time he was 2. Nothing was required of me. IN other words, I'd lucked out.
But my daughter? Gigi? She and her pacifier had one of those "love at first sight" moments that I was powerless to stop. And, without some nudging from me, it may well have been one of those everlasting love stories, too. I just had no idea how to put a stop to it. So I did what moms have done from the beginning of time... I asked other moms. And they had some really great advice! They offered up myriad techniques and ideas that had worked for them! The problem? They didn't for me.
Failure #1: Give Your Kid's Pacifier To Baby Animals
My friend Tracy used this method to get her oldest to give up his pacifier (they called it a bubby).
"Our Zoo collects them for their baby gorillas," she explains. "So he took the bag [of pacifiers] and gave them to the zookeeper, and they explained why they need it and thanked him for helping out the babies." Later, Tracy photoshopped a picture of a baby gorilla with a pacifier in its mouth (see above: isn't that adorable?!). "We put it in an envelope and acted like the zoo sent it with a thank you note. He still talks about it at 8.5 years old. When we go to the zoo he’s always like, 'Is that the one that I gave my bubbies to?'"
I always thought this was as genius as it was precious, and figured "Oh! Gigi loves animals! This will work great!"
She was having precisely zero percent of that. When I suggested, "But you're a big girl, and the animals are little and they need pacis," do you know what she said to me?
"We can buy them new pacis. I need mine."
Oh you did not just...
But she did.
Failure #2: Snipping The Pacifier
When I polled my friends to see what worked for their kids this answer was, by far, the most common.
"Just snip off the tip," they all assured me. "It worked like a charm. They'll try to suck on it for, like, five minutes, get pissed off, and then leave them alone."
So I tried it. When nap time came around and my daughter asked for her pacifier I handed it to her as though nothing had changed. She took it and sucked on it as though nothing had changed, too. At one point she took it out, looked at it, and said, "My paci is broken."
"It is?!" I asked. "Oh my goodness! What a shame! I guess you can't use it anymore!"
"No, it's OK." And went right back to it and nap time passed without incident. She DGAF.
(An important note: manufacturers and pediatricians tell you not to do this as damaged pacifiers might pose a choking risk — kids can chew on the remaining silicone tip and little pieces can come off — but I learned this after I tried it, so whoops!)
Failure #3: Downgrading The Pacifier
My friend Tara had mentioned that she used a special collection of pacifiers called the Lily Method. Basically it's the same concept as snipping the pacifier but done gradually (and safely). So I thought to myself, "Well, maybe if I just got smaller and smaller pacifiers at my local store Gigi will naturally lose interest." So I got a few sizes down of identical pacifiers and made the switch one afternoon at nap time. She popped it in her mouth, sucked a second, took it out, looked at it and said, "My paci shrunk!"
"It did?!" I was hamming it up good. "Oh wow! That's so weird! Maybe our house elf did it to play a funny trick on you!"
I was so proud. For one shining moment I had done it! It was out of her mouth. She wasn't interested. Then...
"It's so cute! It's like a baby pacifier!"
Popped it back in as if nothing had changed. The same thing happened when we went even smaller. Strike three. If this were baseball I'd be out of my misery, but this is parenting and the number of strikes are unlimited.
Failure #4: "Losing" The Pacifier
Honestly this probably would have worked but after an hour I couldn't deal with the blood-curdling screaming any longer and I was weak and I didn't want the end of an era to go down like that for the kiddo.
Failure #5: Exchanging The Pacifier
More cynical parents would call this "a bribe." And sure, yeah, kind of. But something you should know about me: I'm not above bribing. At all. I would legit bribe my way out of any number of parenting trials and tribulations, but my kids are principled and stubborn and it doesn't work. Half the time bribing them goes something like this:
Me: I'll give you X.
Me: But you have to do Y.
Them: But I want X.
Me: Then you have to do Y.
Them: *screaming tantrum*
So when I suggested trading a pacifier for a toy, I kept the toy unspecific (lest specificity be interpreted as a promise rather than a proposition) and when she said no I abandoned the idea all together.
Failure #6: Pacifier-Related TV
Gigi is enthusiastic in her love, but there is little in this world she loves more than Sesame Street. So when I found out there was an episode of Sesame Street that addressed giving up pacifiers, I immediately plopped her in front of the television and then talked about it in a general, roundabout way before I finally said, "Wow. Elmo was such a big monster when he said said bye bye to his binky. Maybe you could do that, too?"
Have you ever seen a toddler give side-eye? It's hilarious and beautiful and, depending on where you stand in relation to it, devastating.
Gigi loves Elmo, but she's no fool.
Failure #7: A Visit From The Pacifier Fairy
A while back I had mentioned the "Paci Fairy" (it's basically the tooth fairy concept, but for pacifiers) but Gigi wasn't at all responsive so I dropped it. Then my mother-in-law came to visit and brought up the wondrous Paci Fairy who "takes pacis and gives them to new babies."
The Paci Fairy became a Freddy Krueger-esque figure — malevolent, inescapable, and lurking around every corner — for the next several weeks. If anything went momentarily missing, she would immediately panic and say, "Maybe the fairy took it to bring to another baby!"
"Sweetie, that's not what the Paci Fairy does..."
"SHE BROUGHT IT TO ANOTHER BABYYYYYYYYY!"
Yeah, so obviously that wasn't going to fly, since I couldn't expect her to willingly work with such a demonic force.
Failure #8: Letting Nature Take Its Course
As we all know that Sesame Street is as big a help to parents as it is to children (or at least that's how I see it), and the big take-away on the "Bye Bye Pacifier" episode was basically, "Look, here are some ideas, but they have to be ready and it's OK to wait on that." Who am I to question the wisdom of Sesame Street? I decided I would wait for her to come to me and let me know she was ready.
But then I started to notice her teeth were getting a little crooked on the bottom and I didn't know that was due to her pacifier but I wasn't going to risk it. She was giving absolutely no indication that she wanted to give up the ol' paci, so I knew I needed to redouble my efforts.
What Finally Worked: A Pacifier Party
I actually wouldn't say letting nature take its course was a complete failure. Because if Gigi wasn't deep down ready, this wouldn't have happened as smoothly as it did. Still, she needed a nudge.
It was around this time that she was getting super into the idea of parties. She would inform me every morning that it was her birthday. She would talk about the guest list incessantly. She would bring bags of flour and sugar into my office every day and tell me it was "time to bake a unicorn cake and here are the ingredients."
"Do you know what's going to happen in a week?" I asked one day, completely out of the blue (for the idea struck me suddenly). My entire family turned. "We're going to have a party just for Gigi!"
"Is it my birthday?!" she asked.
"No. Your birthday is still in May. But we're going to have a GOODBYE PACIFIER PARTY!"
Before she could react negatively I burst out in a series of excited squeals. "We're going to have a cake! And we're going to sing! And have party hats! And you'll get to blow out candles! And then?! You get a present! Doesn't that sound so exciting!"
A beat. And then.
"A party?! For me?!"
I had buy in, so I talked it up at least three times a day for a week. I wasn't exactly sure it would work, to be honest. I worried that after her party she would expect the pacifier and flip when she didn't get it.
But it worked. By God, it worked. She went to bed that night delighted with her "party" and excited to get her present the next day.
Securing A Lasting Success: Put The Pacifier In A Stuffed Animal
This idea came from my brilliant friend Cindy. I mentioned to Cindy that we were doing the party and she told me what they did for her daughter. "She gave it up her own," Cindy told me, "[And after she] proved to me that she could sleep one night without it, we went to Build-A-Bear."
Build-A-Bear, if you don't know, is a store kids love and parents hate. There you can, as the name suggests, build a (teddy) bear. You choose an unstuffed shell of a plush toy and then go through a series of cutely choreographed steps with an employee who stuffs it full of fluff and sews it up. In the case of Cindy's daughter, there was a little something extra.
"Her binky is in her bear’s hand," Cindy went on. "She can feel it, and she still sleeps with it every night. Best decision ever."
Wow. That is genius. Because it's a great way to celebrate, reward, and memorialize a beloved pacifier and it keeps a pacifier-obsessed child from relapsing by rendering it inaccessible.
So I took Gigi as a coup de grace.
The past several nights and nap times, she has cuddled with "Baby Bear." While I think she would have been OK with just the Pacifier Party, having a physical object has made the process smoother. Because hugging the bear is comforting and reminds her that she made a decision to stop using her pacifier... finally. She just needed a little bit of motivation once she was ready.
So if you're looking for a way to wean your own little one off their pacifier pal, I hope this list can give you some ideas. Because even though most of these things didn't work for me, that doesn't mean they can't work and work well.
Here's to you, mama. You've got this.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.