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Should Your Toddler Use a Pacifer?

QUESTION: 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?

ANSWER: 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.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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