Should your toddler use a pacifier?

My two-year-old doesn't use her pacifier much during the day, but fusses and will not go to sleep without it at night. When should I take the pacifier away?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

The need to suck remains prominent at this age, even if your child does not use a bottle or nurse any longer. Sucking provides emotional soothing, as do other things like a favorite teddy bear (or the famous "security" blanket carried around by the Linus cartoon character).

A pacifier, like other toys or blankets that soothe, is called a "transitional object." This means that your child has transferred the emotional meaning of your love and security to an object that helps the toddler separate and act more independently.

Two is an age of growing independence, but with much conflict and need for reassurance in the process. It is likely that your daughter sucks the pacifier as a response to the anxiety she experiences as she separates from you for the night. Sucking provides extra soothing (reminiscent of being held and fed) that she may not be ready to give up as yet.

See her attachment to her pacifier at bedtime as a way of reliving the experience of nurturance at your breast (if she was breastfed) or in your arms (with a bottle). She is practicing soothing herself. I suggest you allow her all the time she needs to internalize this feeling. It is extremely likely that she will simply give it up on her own when she is ready.

And, really, is there any rush? One of the most significant tools for navigating life successfully will be your child's ability to calm and soothe herself in the future. Support her to develop this ability in herself now and she will be more confident and secure in coping with life's ups and downs later.

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