Dealing with Toddler’s Separation Anxiety: How Do I Get My Toddlers to Stop Their Pacifier Use
Rhonda took her son in to the dentist for his annual exam and afterward the dentist brought her into the room to show her that her son was developing an overbite and asked Rhonda if her son was still using a pacifier. Rhonda replied, “Well, yes, but not all the time.” The dentist then suggested that her son should stop using his pacifier to prevent the overbite from getting worse. Rhonda knew her son, Adam, was getting “too big” to use a pacifier, but she was avoiding the huge blow up that occurred every time she tried to take the pacifier away. She wondered how she could get Adam to give up the pacifier without it becoming a big traumatic event or facing a child throwing a tantrum.
Are you ready to get rid of the pacifier, but your toddler isn’t? Do you wonder how to get a toddler to give up pacifier use without having to deal with a child throwing a tantrum?
Children’s attachment to security objects is usually related to separation issues. The resistance you experience when trying to wean them is often referred to as a toddler’s separation anxiety.
Like most problems in parenting, you want to look at this situation from the child’s perspective. Thumb sucking or pacifier use is not a sign of weakness. It is usually a temporary means for children to manage their emotions.
Until they learn how to express them verbally, young children often cope with their emotions by depending on objects. So respect the importance of security objects, whether it’s a pacifier, bottle, favorite blanket or stuffed animal.
Sooner or later, however, children will need to transition to the next stage of childhood where they have the skills necessary to willingly give up their dependencies.
How To Help Your Child Transition Out Pacifier Use Without Toddler Separation Anxiety:
The key to fostering your child’s independence is to teach skills while letting go of the need to control, the desire to be needed, or the temptation to rescue. Your children will always need you, but the ways they need you will change over the years. By replacing unhelpful habits with helpful responses, we maintain a healthy balance between freedom and limits.
Now here are some practical suggestions to try to wean your toddler from pacifier use :
- Figure out which situations trigger your toddler to want the pacifier. Then offer or teach your child other comforting techniques to use during those situations. For example, if your child wants a bottle or pacifier at bedtime, but these can cause dental problems, give your child their favorite blanket or stuffed animal.
- Reassure your child that you are there. Offer hugs and an empathetic ear, so they learn how to get human reassurance, instead of always looking to objects for security. Acknowledge your child’s feelings, putting a name to their emotions. As you teach them to use feeling words, they will use words more often to express their feelings.
For example, Rhonda’s conversation might go like this:
On the way home from the dentist, Adam might say, “I really like my sucky.” Rhonda can say, “Yeah, it’s really nice to have that sucky. What did the dentist say would happen if you sucked it?” This helps Adam buy into the idea of letting go of the pacifier instead of pushing and lecturing. Rhonda can just keep acknowledging Adam’s feelings and the difficulty, “It must be hard not to use something you really like to use.”
- Allow your toddler to be responsible for the pacifier. When they lose their pacifier, don’t replace it. Let them know that they have to keep track of their pacifier and if they lose it it’s gone. This teaches your toddler responsibility at a young age.
- Replace the pacifier with another comforting object, such as a stuffed animal. Go to the store and let your child pick out a stuffed animal or toy they like. At the counter, have them “trade in” their pacifier for the object they have picked out. (You’ll be surprised at how the cashier will support you and your child in this act.) By having your toddler be responsible for giving up their pacifier use and being able to pick the replacement, they will feel empowered, instead of pressured and it’s far less likely a power struggle will ensue.
- Surround your child with children that do not use pacifiers anymore. Your child will likely pick up on how other children self-sooth or receive comfort from people or other security objects.
For more information about toddler’s separation anxiety and how to apply The Parent’s Toolshop®’s unique Universal Blueprint® problem-solving system to this challenge, get the 7 Keys to Parenting Success free ebook. You will be less frustrated, respond more calmly and feel more confident in any parenting situation.
Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. She has interviewed many parenting experts on her Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com.
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