This morning, casually, while at the breakfast table with the boys, I mentioned to O that big boys don’t use pacifiers. I said, “Babies use them, but big boys don’t. You’re soon to be 2 (years) and no longer a baby. You’re a big boy now.”

He asked to get down from the table where his pacifier was sitting. He marched into his room and grabbed his two lovies and came back to the breakfast table. It was as if he instantly knew he needed to look elsewhere for comfort. I didn’t take the pacifier away from the table and he didn’t ask for it again. When I left for clinic a bit later, I asked our nanny to try his nap without it today. Not wanting to set her up, I said, just explain that he’s a big boy (no mean, you’re-no-baby messiness) and see what happens. “If it doesn’t work,” I said, “I’ll do it next week.” But something seemed right about it.

I often tell parents in clinic that they are the experts of their children. Because although as their doctor I may know more about the physical exam, I’ll never understand or trump the instinct of a parent. As one mom mentioned to me in clinic today, we parents simply know who our kids “are” and what is about to happen.

O has been using his pacifier for sleep since I kept shoving it back in his mouth when he was 1 month old. I’ve read the SIDS prevention recommendations (where pacifiers might help protect against it). And we affectionately named the pacifier “the plug” when my first son calmed immensely with it. We loved it. But let me be clear, O absolutely adores the thing. More than most anything else for comfort and sleep. When he puts it in his mouth he displays pure delight. It has been enjoyable to watch. I’m not kidding; I usually say I hate those things (pacifiers). But ever since I’ve known O, I kind of like them. It has just provided him so much joy. There is an innocence to it; he sucks on it, smiles, lies down in his crib and sleeps. He seems to savor it. You can hear him sucking on it deep in sleep. It’s been a lovely relationship.

I got home from clinic around 8:15pm tonight. The boys were still awake. After songs and books, I was the one to put him to down to sleep. We sang songs, he grabbed his lovies, I put him in his crib. Just before I was going to leave the room he said, “Binkie?”

There was something bashful about his tone. I stuck to my guns: “You’re a big boy now.” I was the one with tears in my eyes, not him.

Then, it happened. He grabbed onto his lovies. Tight. He asked me to hold him again. More songs, one more squeeze, and back into his crib. His big blue eyes looked up at me as I left. There was a trust. And then courage. The kind where you face your fears and exceed them. Although you may think I’m stretching the margins of the moment,I saw a part of him tonight that seems woven into his being. He’s brave and trusting. And ready to grow up.

Devastating on some level.

There are all sorts of tips and ideas I give families about weaning a pacifier. Here are my 3 golden rules for toddlers:

  • Age: Do your best to get rid of the pacifier by age 2. The gum tissue is still somewhat malleable, and if your child’s teeth have been pushed forward because of the pacifier, getting rid of it as early as possible will allow for those “bucked” teeth to move back into the gumline.
  • Temperament: choose an age-temperament-appropriate way to explain it to your toddler. You’re your child’s expert; you decide what that is. From stating it clearly to your child that it’s time to stop using it, to sending it to another baby in the mail, to tossing it into the garbage together. Anything you devise will work.
  • Never turn back. Don’t give in and give the pacifier back to your child, however delicious it may seem. You’ll lose all credibility and it will be harder to wean with each attempt.

Despite those three claims, the most important task may be readying yourself. We’re attached to those pacifiers as much as our children are. In our home, it’s been the sole remaining real baby-item. Some of us aren’t entirely ready to wean ourselves from parenting a baby. We need to learn from the courage of our children, pacifier free.