image for infant eating article If you've ever endured a full-blown temper tantrum because you've forgotten to bring your child's pacifier with you when you go out, you know how attached kids become to their beloved "binkies." Pacifiers may have a thousand names, but their value is the same: they provide comfort to infants and toddlers.

When Should Weaning Begin?

There is no definitive or universal age at which children should be weaned from the pacifier. Child development specialist Warren Umansky, PhD, recommends weaning from the pacifier at eighteen months. If your child isn't ready to give up the habit at this age, it may help to start gradually by giving a pacifier to your child only at nighttime or naptime to help him fall asleep.

Reasons to Wean

Tooth Alignment

Most pediatric dentists contend that using a pacifier during the early years of development generally does not permanently alter the position of the teeth or jaws. Some do feel that pacifier use can cause the upper jaw to become a bit deformed, causing the upper teeth to be misaligned. According to California dentist Kim Loos, DDS, the amount of jaw deformation depends on the amount of time the child sucks on the pacifier.

Language Development

According to child psychologist and author Penelope Leach, there are social problems that come with constant pacifier use. Leach says that babies whose mouths are constantly occupied with pacifiers may not smile or laugh as freely or explore playthings and experiment with sounds the way they would if their mouths were free.

Ear Infections

Pediatricians say that pacifier use has been linked an increase in ear infections in toddlers. If your child can't hear well, it's possible that he will have trouble learning to speak well.

How to Wean Gently

The experts say these are some easy and effective strategies for weaning:

Proceed gradually.

Follow your child's lead and don't push him. Start with naptimes and gradually work up to a full day and night. Bedtime is usually the most difficult time for children, since most kids want their pacifier for comfort at night.

Use substitution.

Break the habit by substituting a more productive one. For instance, have your child "trade in" his pacifier for a special toy or play activity. It may also help your child if he spends time around other kids that have successfully given up the pacifier. Children like to imitate, so playmates can be great role models.

Try reward charts.

Stars or other special stickers work well. There are also books that you can read to your child about kids who have to give up their pacifier. If your child enjoys books, this is a great opportunity to teach by example.

Promote good habits.

Small rewards that promote good habits (a nifty toothbrush is one good choice) and plenty of hugs and reassurance help too. A new toy, such as a favorite stuffed animal or pillow, can help, particularly if it offers comfort.

Be consistent.

Don't get impatient and give up. Your child learns by your example, so stick it out, even when the going gets rough. Enlist the support of other parents who have already been through the same experience.

Choose weaning time carefully.

Be careful about when you choose to wean. For example, don't decide to take the pacifier away if your child is sick or is already experiencing another life change (such as moving to a new house, attending preschool for the first time, or if you've just given birth to another baby).

What to Avoid

There are some things you should try to avoid during the weaning process. For example, never use threats, punishment, or shaming messages. These tactics will only cause your child to cling even more tightly to his prized possession.

Don't give the pacifier back once you've taken it away. It can be tempting to give in during the middle of the night, especially if you're feeling deprived of sleep, but this will only confuse your child. He will begin to wonder what he needs to do (scream, have tantrums, throw toys) to get the pacifier back.

What About Cold Turkey?

Some parents find the "cold turkey" method to be most effective.

"Our son cried briefly for two or three nights when we took this approach, but by the fourth night, he seemed to forget all about his pacifier," says Atlanta mom Susan Weed. "While the first few nights were challenging, this technique worked best for us."

Finding What Works for Your Child

Remember that what works for one child may not be suitable for another. Children are unique individuals, with different needs, challenges, and fears. Talk to your child's pediatrician before attempting the weaning process. Most pediatricians have their own philosophy about what is best for your child's personality and specific stage of development.