When and how to wean your toddler off their pacifier

Pacifiers can be a great tool for comforting your child, even into their toddler and preschool years. But using a pacifier too long can impact your child's tooth and mouth health, so experts recommend taking pacifiers away between 2 and 4 years old.

A toddler with a pacifier in his mouth
Photo credit: / Robertobinetti70

It's wonderful when a pacifier soothes your fussy baby. But did you ever dream the binky would still be your child's best friend well into the toddler years?

Experts say most children stop using a pacifier on their own. But if you have a toddler with a stubborn binky habit, it can be challenging to address. After all, toddlers are notoriously resistant to change… or doing anything they don't like.

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And while few things are cuter than a baby with a binky, parents of older kiddos might feel judged or self-conscious about their child's pacifier fixation – or nervous about how pacifier use might be affecting their child's teeth and mouth.

Thankfully, with a little patience (and some strategy on your part), it's possible to wean older children off of the pacifier. Check out the tips below to get started.

When to take away the pacifier

Experts say it's best to stop pacifier use by 2 to 4 years of age – and organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) agree. Research shows that regularly sucking on a pacifier past this age range may affect your child's mouth shape and tooth alignment – which may require pricey orthodontia to correct down the road. Having a pacifier in their mouth all day could slow your kid's language development, too.

That said, the specific timeline for pacifier weaning can also depend on your personal preference and your child's needs. For example, you may want to let your child hang on to the pacifier if they're going through a major life change, such as starting daycare or the arrival of a baby sibling. The pacifier can help your child self-soothe during these challenging transitions.

Your child's doctor may suggest getting rid of the pacifier if:

  • Your child has been using pacifiers frequently and vigorously, and is starting to show signs of teeth and mouth problems.
  • Your child seems to be developing speech and language problems.
  • Your child is still regularly using pacifiers past age 3, with no signs of stopping.

How to wean your toddler or child off the pacifier

Before saying bye-bye to the binky, it's important to understand exactly when and in what situations your child most needs a pacifier. Sucking on fingers, thumbs, and pacifiers helps provide security and comfort – in fact, it's a natural impulse that babies start in the womb.

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Knowing when your child will most want the comfort of a pacifier can help you ease them out of it with minimal disruption and struggle. If your child needs a pacifier to fall asleep, for example, going cold turkey may not only disrupt their ability to soothe themself, but also disrupt their sleep schedule.

With that in mind, there are many approaches to pacifier weaning. Here are some tried-and-true suggestions:

Go cold turkey

While some experts recommend gentler methods of weaning, some parents find it works to just set a date and take the pacifier away. If you think the best approach with your child (and for your sanity) is to just say no, this is your method of choice.

Limit its use

A slow, gentle weaning process can make things easier for your child. Restricting the pacifier to certain times (like bedtime) or certain places (like their crib or bed) can be the first step.

Leave it for the "binky fairy"

The binky fairy is the petite and powerful first cousin of the tooth fairy. This magical creature may help your child make the transition from being hooked on the pacifier to living pacifier-free.

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Tell your child that the "binky fairy" or "paci fairy" will be coming soon to take all the pacifiers and give them to babies who need them. Then on the appointed day, remove the pacifiers from the house while your child is sleeping and replace them with a special gift like a toy or lovey.

They'll be excited by the visit, and the new gift will help make up for losing the binky. (There's lots of storybooks about the "pacifier fairy" to help with this transition, too.)

If you'd rather not involve fantasy, you can make a deal with your child – offer a longed-for toy or other treat in exchange for their pacifiers.

Use positive reinforcement

Praise your kid when they don't use or need the pacifier, rather than scold them for the times that they do. "You're such a big kid now!" and "Great job!" will help them feel good about the change. You can also use star charts to help them track progress, and offer little treats or rewards for added motivation.

Read books about it

Story time is a wonderful time to cuddle with your kids and encourage a love of books and reading. But you can also use books to inspire the behavior you'd like to see and help your child deal with changes – such as giving up the pacifier.

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Here are some good ones to consider:

  • Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier and Ben Gives Up His Pacifier, by Jenny Album
  • No More Pacifier, Duck, by Michael Dahl and Oriol Vidal
  • No More Pacifiers!, by Melanie O'Brien, illustrated by Amanda Enright
  • Pacifiers Are Not Forever, by Elizabeth Verdick, illustrated by Marieka Heinlen
  • Pacita the Pacifier Fairy, by Charlotte Attra, Jeremie Febvre, and Sophie Lawson, illustrated by Olivier Huette
  • Pull and Play: Pacifier, by Alice Le Henand, illustrated by Thierry Bedouet
  • Rosemary the Pacifier Fairy, by Lindsey Coker Locky, illustrated by Lora Look

Go for it and stay strong

Whichever method you choose, make a commitment. Keep the end goal in mind, and don't give in. Of course, you'll want to be understanding and comfort them in other ways as you both work your way through this transition.

Let nature take its course

You can always do nothing: Some think it's best to let children wean themselves from their pacifier. And in most cases, children do kick the habit on their own. Many children stop using a pacifier between the ages of 2 and 4.

If yours doesn't, however, try the methods above or talk to your child's pediatrician or dentist for help.

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American Academy of Pediatrics. 2020. Pacifiers and Thumb-Sucking. a new window [Accessed April 2023]

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2022. Pacifiers: Pediatric Patient Education. a new window [Accessed April 2023]

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Undated. Cold Turkey: How to Convince Baby It's Time to Part from the Pacifier. a new window [Accessed April 2023]

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Undated. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). a new window [Accessed April 2023]

American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. 2011. Thumb, Finger, and Pacifier Habits. a new window [Accessed April 2023]

Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Tips to Wean Your Child From Pacifiers. a new window [Accessed April 2023]

Nationwide Children's Hospital. 2010. How to Use Pacifiers Safely. a new window [Accessed April 2023]

Nationwide Children's Hospital. 2022. Pacifiers: When to Stop Using Them. a new window [Accessed April 2023]

Schmid K., et al. 2018. The effect of pacifier sucking on orofacial structures: a systematic literature review. Progress in Orthodontics 19(8). a new window [Accessed April 2023]

Jessie Van Amburg

Jessie Van Amburg is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in mental and reproductive health. She lives in Beacon, New York, with her husband and three cats.