Photo Credit: Bauer Griffin
Suri Cruise, who will be five next month, was seen strolling down a Vancouver street last weekend with a pacifier lodged snugly in her mouth. The horror! Shouldn't she have ditched that thing, like, three years ago?
Dr. Jennifer Shu, pediatrician and co-author of Heading Home With Your Newborn, says probably. Basically, a child is too old for a pacifier when the risks -- which include speech delay, problems with teeth alignment, ear infections, interference with feeding and psychological effects (like other kids teasing your child for still using a pacifier) -- outweigh the benefits. (Check out the “Risks and Benefits of Pacifiers” as explained by the American Academy of Family Physicians.) Usually risks outweigh benefits (like decreased risk of SIDS) by age two.
But if, like TomKat, you haven't gotten the gumption to steal that thing away in the middle of the night, and your child isn’t having those problems, the pacifier probably isn't doing any harm, it turns out. “But what's the end point?" says Shu. "And who is the pacifier helping -- the parent or the child?” If you've got a toddler or preschooler who can't kick the habit you should only allow it to continue under the supervision of a pediatric dentist and your pediatrician.
And if you’re dreading making your kid quit but know you've got to make the leap sometime between now and her first year of college, fear not: Shu says cold turkey actually works with many children. But you can also take these baby steps:
Limit the pacifier use. Give your child her paci only at set times, such as naps or bedtime, and don't allow it outside the home.
Progressively cut off the tip. Eventually, your child won’t have anything left to suck on.
Call on the 'Pacifier Fairy.' Give all your child’s pacifiers to this magical fairy to take to other children who need one.
Find a substitute. Let your child swap a behavior or object in place of the pacifier, such as holding a small, soft piece of fabric against his face, carrying a little toy or squeezing a stress ball.