Weaning the pacifier, Elmo, and why I think security objects are awesome


This past weekend our family took the plunge: We weaned our 20-month old off the pacifier.  I say “wean,” but the reality is we went cold-turkey.  I didn’t have the patience for a more subtle approach or the time to formulate some complicated plan.

Saturday morning was game-time so my daughter and I sat together on the couch to watch a YouTube video of Elmo’s “Bye Bye Binky” song.  I searched her face for buy-in and she honestly looked intrigued.   After she watched the clip we collected her binkies in a little bag and I asked, “Can you say bye-bye to your binkies and throw them away?  Just like Elmo?” She looked curiously at me, like it was a game, then confidently said, “Yes.”  She clutched the bag in her tiny hand, held it above the trash, released her grip, and away they went.   She waved with a smile, “Bye-bye binkies,” then ran off to play.

My daughter emerged from the womb fiercely independent with an incredible ability to self-soothe.  In the early months this meant the whole family was sleeping – a total win.  She was the kid who at a month-old could be swaddled, given a binky, placed in the co-sleeper, and not heard from for six hours.  By the time she was a crawler she became master of “the wiggle” – a crazy maneuver she employs to break free from being held.  Why be carried when you can get around on your own?  As a toddler, she’s been quick to brush off the calamity of a scraped knee or the blunder of a wounded ego, rebounding without so much as a tear (and certainly without a need for reassurance from Mom!)

The truth is, though I adore her independence, I savor the evenings she’s tired or the days she’s home sick because that’s when she slows down long enough to cuddle and lean into my kisses.  If I’m lucky, it’s during these times that I’m able to scoop her up, embrace her to my chest, inhale the scent of her hair and place her squishy cheek against my own.  I live for those sweet little moments and her pudgy-armed hugs.

Despite her preference for playtime over a snuggle, my daughter has an enormous collection of ‘lovies’ with whom she is generously affectionate.  She especially adores tucking up with her swaddle blankets from infancy, her ‘babies,’ and her Elmo stuffie. Nothing, however, does she love more than her treasured collection of binkies.  Especially the newborn-sized Nuk pacifiers.

The treasured pacifier bowl atop her dresser
The treasured pacifier bowl atop her dresser

We keep a bowl of them atop her dresser and she loves being lifted to the height of the bowl, dipping her hand into the pile, turning over a few, inspecting them, and then choosing a particular binky as “the one.”   When she’s found a rogue pacifier under the couch or behind her crib she celebrates with a squeal and her own version of a happy dance.  She doesn’t just suck on them anymore – she holds them, chews them, even spins them around in her mouth like one would a lollipop.

Security objects for toddlers are not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, they can greatly help regulate a young child’s emotions.  Having a collection of lovies on hand is probably half the reason my kid is able to handle minor stresses on her own, without mom swooping in for the rescue.  Feeling connected to a particular blanket, stuffed animal, or even a pacifier can decrease a kid’s tension and anxiety, particularly around transitions, naps, and bedtime.

It’s fascinating – the comfort provided by a blanket, in particular, is not only stress relieving, it’s also been shown to enhance a child’s learning in new situations[1]  When I was my daughter’s age I was inseparable from my own blankie.  I can still remember the blanket’s soft fibers and the experience of running my fingers across the binding as a way to soothe myself to sleep.  It’s incredible the nostalgia we can feel, even as adults, for the security objects we cherished as children.

A sampling of contenders for the position of new favorite lovey - I'm placing bets on one of the blankies :)
A sampling of contenders for the position of “favorite lovie.”  My bet’s on Elmo :)

Although I’m a superfan of security objects, I’ve recently wondered if my kid is getting a bit too old for the binky.   At 20 months I feel like it’s time to pass the baton of “favorite lovie” from the pacifier to something, really anything, else.  A blankie, a doll baby, her Elmo… there are a lot contenders that she’s already securely attached to.

Why press it?  A couple reasons.  For one, she’s about to graduate to the “older toddler” room at her daycare and they have a pretty strict no binky rule.  I’ve also been getting flack from my pediatrician who worries her speech will be delayed if she lives with a binky in her mouth.  Point taken.  Then there’s the idea that we could be affecting her dental future.  Studies have shown significant differences in dental arch and the closure of the mouth (degree of overjet, openbite, and crossbite) in pacifier users age two and older when compared to kids who stopped using a pacifier by their first birthday[2].  Of course, I also have my own (more selfish) reasons.  I’m tired of having to pop the thing out of her mouth to take a decent picture and it’s annoying to stow a stash in my purse for the unexpected, emergency meltdown.

So I asked my daughter to throw away her binkies, just like Elmo said.  Though I held my breath for the next 24 hours, it was much less traumatic than I anticipated.  At her afternoon nap she asked for “binky” two or three times.  With each request I reminded her that we said “bye-bye” and that her binkies were, “all gone.”  There were no tears, but she couldn’t quite fall asleep.  Turns out, this helped us immensely.  By the time evening rolled around my no-nap wonder was so bleary eyed and sleepy that she lay down in her crib and crashed.  There wasn’t so much as a whimper in dispute.  It was the first time, ever, she had fallen asleep without the crutch of a binky to suck on.

Lest you think the night was perfectly peaceful, she did have a handful of mini meltdowns from 3-5:00 AM.  She woke up at least three times mystified and frustrated that she couldn’t find her pacifier.  Each time I rubbed her back, held her hand, and reassured her that she could fall back asleep without it – and she did.  Despite the inherent frustration she was obviously experiencing, twenty-month olds are far more resilient than we give them credit for.

The next morning she woke up happy, stopped asking for her pacifier, and went about her day.  The last 72 hours have meant taking more baby dolls to bed, clutching Elmo a little bit closer, and tightening her grip on blankie, but she’s otherwise no worse for the wear.  An unexpected outcome?  I’ve found myself grieving a bit over the milestone: She’s weaned from bottles, no longer wears onesies, walks/runs, is starting to talk, and has successfully given up her pacifier – that last relic of babyhood.  Next up: Potty training.  Yikes.

Last night I walked into her bedroom long after she’d fallen asleep.  I stroked her hair, felt the softness of her cheek, and listened to her breath.  She still makes those precious baby sounds.  It was chilly so I pulled the covers up over her shoulders.  She was sleeping on her tummy, knees tucked under, with her bum straight up in the air.  Since she learned to roll this has been her favorite position.  Glancing about her bed I couldn’t help but smile at the collection of lovies scattered around her: two doll babies, her Elmo, 2 blankies, and a superhero headband.  She’s a fierce one this little baby of mine.  Weaning the binky didn’t put a damper on her ability to self-soothe; she’s just become more creative.

As independent as this child can be, I do hope she understands she can always come to me for comfort.  Even when she’s grown, the blankies are long discarded, and her innate sense of pride tells her to manage things on her own – she can come.  I whispered this to her, as a promise, as I tenderly moved Elmo alongside her, close and within reach.

[1] Providing Attachment Objects to Facilitate Learning and Reduce Distress: Effects of Mothers and Security Blankets. (1973). Developmental Psychology 13, 25-28.

[2] Recommendations for the use of pacifiers. (2003). Paediatrics & Child Health,8(8), 515–519.

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Weaning the pacifier, Elmo, and why I think security objects are awesome by Sarah Kiser, CPNP-PC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

About sarahkiser

Pediatric nurse practitioner, writer, mother of two.

One thought on “Weaning the pacifier, Elmo, and why I think security objects are awesome

  1. We certainly have a lot to look forward to, and this will be a good reminder on the ways to help children create their own independence rather than choosing for them, especially as we start introducing the pacifier for William!

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