Speech Squirrel Speaks

Information about disabilities, delays, and the people impacted by them.

Pacifier Problems!

(Or the dreaded binky breakdowns…)

A baby happily sleeping with his pacifier.
photo credit: DSC_8668 via photopin (license)
My best friend and my binky… Life is good!

Recently I came across the question “Why are pacifiers so effective in soothing infants? on Quora about pacifiers…  I’ve spent years working with families on getting rid of pacifiers but my thoughts on that are beyond the scope of the Quora question I answered, so I wanted to expand here.

First, here’s what I wrote at Quora:

Answer by Seth Koster:

The simple answer is that pacifiers provide oral stimulation much like a nipple, which is something infants crave since it is their method of feeding.

Though there’s more to it than just the physical sensation.  When an infant is held and fed by his mother she produces pheromones which the child breathes in, thereby releasing endorphins and other neurochemicals which soothe the child.  Much like Pavlov and his bells and dogs, people can become habituated to sensory stimulation with a programmed response and children may produce those same neurochemicals when given the pacifier.  This may be one reason why stopping pacifier use later is often so difficult.  We’re taking away something associated with the loving embrace and nurturing of the child’s mother.

Pacifiers are important early on.  The evidence shows that, after the child has established appropriate nursing skills, using the pacifier for the first six months of life can greatly reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  However, after that, it is important to discontinue the pacifier since it is associated with increased risk of ear infections and may be correlated with speech and language delays.

Why are pacifiers so effective in soothing infants?

So that handles the why, but it doesn’t get to the “How do we stop the pacifier?!?”  This is the question most parents have!

Angry toddler wants her pacifier back.
photo credit: 25 months – messy face via photopin (license)
That binky better be coming back, mom!

So the first thing to remember is that, for a lot of you, it’s going to be an awful, terrible, no good very bad experience for your family.  No matter how you handle it kids who are already over about 24 months have a REALLY tough time giving it up.  Any time we try to change a behavior things tend to get worse before they get better.

Here are some tips to help:

  • Set aside a time when a variety of people are available to watch your child.  This allows you to have a break when you need to get away from the screaming.  I often recommend picking a long weekend.
  • Once you start, don’t cave in!!!  When kids know that screaming and crying works to get what they want…  Guess what they do when they want something?  That’s right, they use that strategy.  We all use the strategies which work, and kids are no different.  They aren’t bad, they’re just good at being social little people and getting what they want.
  • Use some sort of activity which focuses on stopping using the pacifier.  If kids can become involved and motivated they become the champions of the cause instead of the enemy of it.  Get them on your side!!

There are a variety of ideas which have worked for me, but it always comes down to the individual child and what works for your family.

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Big Kid Pacifier Party!

I wish I could take credit, but one of my families gave me

A baby holding a balloon.
photo credit: Emma Rose Loves Balloons via photopin (license)

this idea:  Have a Pacifier Party and at the end you tie each pacifier to a helium balloon and let it float away!  I was amazed that you can get a helium balloon kit.

The kit comes with a helium tank, balloons and string, so everything you need should be there. Now lots of people (even yours truly in his distant youth) like inhaling helium for the fun voice change but it’s important to remember that breathing in helium displaces oxygen in the body. Even though it’s not a poisonous gas, I do recommend NOT giving any to your kids just to be on the safe side.

Party with balloons sending pacifiers away.
photo credit: Sunday 603 via photopin (license)
Goodbye dear binkies, we loved you!

Kids love balloons (and who doesn’t love parties?!?), and by sending the pacifiers off into the world you have created a moment of finality.  If your child later asks you about getting a pacifier you can always say that they floated away and now they’re gone.

Binky Bye-Bye Book!

For some families what works best is a story which sparks their child’s imagination.  I’ve worked with families whose children especially loved the book “Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier: The book that makes children WANT to move on from pacifiers!

It’s not only a nice story, but it gives you the opportunity to involve your child and let him follow Bea’s lead in becoming a ‘Big Kid’ just like Bea.  Once in a while it’s nice to have peer pressure work in our favor, right parents?  😉

Some families like the idea of giving a gift to help give up the pacifier, but I have mixed feelings about that.  It encourages kids to expect bribes which is probably not something we want to do, but in a case where a mythical fairy leaves the gift in appreciation for the pacifier I feel a bit better about it.

Chewy Tubes!

Baby chewing on a television remote control.
photo credit: yummies via photopin (license)
Don’t blame me, you took my Chewy Tube!

One of my old standbys are Chewy Tubes.  These are rubber teething items which provide excellent oral stimulation and can be a great replacement for the pacifier.  There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. The age we want to stop the pacifier is about when teething starts.
  2. We still provide oral stimulation that babies are craving.
  3. It helps kids work on moving their mouths which is beneficial for developing oral motor skills.

Personally, I buy the Chewy Tubes Therapist Pack but if you don’t need as many shapes you can always pick up a smaller Combo Pack.

The Anti-Vampire-Toddler Idea!

I found this GREAT idea on Shasta Walton’s blog and with her kind permission I’m sharing it here!

I’ve had lots of parents ask me about using bad tasting things on a pacifier in order to convince kids to stop using them, but most of the ideas sound a little troublesome to me.  I’m not sure if it’s necessarily safe or appropriate to use hot pepper sauces or, as one parent suggested, the bitter apple spray which keeps dogs from chewing on things.  However, the NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine lists garlic as “possibly safe” for kids as long as not given in large amounts.  This means there doesn’t seem to be evidence that it is unsafe.  Obviously we won’t be giving a significant amount of garlic to our toddlers, of course!

We all know that toddlers, like vampires, are terribly afraid of Garlic Juice, so we can just spray it on the pacifier.  Now if your toddler doesn’t mind the taste of the garlic juice, perhaps he’s a werewolf instead?

Your Thoughts?

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments section below!