You’re ready to wean your child from their pacifier and want your child to be gung ho about this new step. But hold on — there are some things to consider before you jump in with two feet.

Your child’s sucking reflex is a very real need. In fact, they started learning this skill way back as a 14-week-old embryo in your womb.

So don’t be surprised if your child (and you) need some help to drop the habit. Here’s the lowdown on how to avoid a potential power struggle.

Let’s take a look at what the experts say. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests offering a pacifier (after breastfeeding is established) as one method of reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Stopping pacifier use before 2 to 4 years is usually suggested.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), agrees non-nutritive sucking is normal for babies and young children and recommend weaning from the pacifier by age 3.

It’s believed that throwing out that paci before age 3 reduces your child’s risk of dental malocclusions. Weaning at 6 months can reduce your child’s chance of ear infection, according to one review of studies, but the SIDS risk reduction may continue through the first year, so families may want to continue offering the paci during that time.

Wondering about the best time for weaning from the paci? It’s not clear-cut. Parents should talk to their pediatrician about what’s best for their child if they’re not sure.

You may want to wait until your child self-weans. That’s because between about 6 months and 3 years, your child is busy with developmental leaps. Taking away their self-soothing method may be challenging to say the least.

Until about 12 to 15 months, you can follow the following weaning tips:

  • Pay attention to when your baby is sucking. Are they sucking for real comfort or are they content, and sucking just because?
  • Try to eliminate the paci at times your baby doesn’t really need to suck. You may want to offer some other form of stimulation: a mobile, rattle, or swinging chair. If teething seems to be an issue, offer a teething ring or cold washcloth instead.
  • If your baby protests and starts to cry, you could try to delay giving them their pacifier by distracting them with a toy or playing with them.

It’s best to wean from the paci gently, when baby is content and distracted with other things. If you try to take it when they’re already upset and your baby has a strong need to suck, withholding it may just make them cry longer and get more upset.

Also, it’s worth noting that if you take the pacifier away at an age when the urge to suck for comfort is still strong, your baby may just switch to sucking on something else like their thumb.

There’s no denying it, you’ve got your work cut out. But hang in there, and you’ll find yourself offering your baby their paci only when they’re really distressed.

One day, you’ll realize that your baby is using the pacifier only at night. And then, by introducing a comforting bedtime routine plus a favorite toy or blanket, you’ll find that you can finally say your baby is paci-weaned.

Yes, there are tried and true methods to wean your toddler off their paci. Basically, there’s the quick route and the slow route. Both of them rely on your child’s developing cognitive abilities. As your child grows, you finally have someone to reason with. Hurray!

The quick route

Take a deep breath because to run this route, you’ll need pretty strong nerves.

Explain to your toddler that in 3 days’ time, you’ll be taking away their paci because they’re already big enough to manage without one. Repeat your message the following day.

On the day of reckoning, remove all pacifiers. Best practice is to offer your toddler another comfort toy like a teddy, blanket, whistle, or teether. Some parents like to use the story of a paci fairy, who comes to take the pacifiers in the house so other babies can use them, and leaves a new lovey in its place.

Hold on tight: Within 2 days, the crying spells will likely be behind you.

The slow route

Slow and steady does it. To follow this plan, you’ll have to lay the groundwork well.

  • Toddler talk. Talk to your toddler about being big enough to throw out their paci. Plant the idea that they can do it by telling them stories about other friends (real or imaginary) who did just that. Let your toddler see you bragging to their favorite teddy that very soon your toddler is going to put down their paci.
  • Share tools. Show your child that they can manage without their paci by gently stretching out the time from when they ask for their paci and when you hand it over. Offer them other comfort measures instead. When they successfully go without the paci, praise them loudly.
  • Limit. Use your instincts to figure out when your toddler really needs their paci and when they can go without. Work towards set times that the paci is used, for example, at nap time and bedtime.
  • Give choices. One of the best ways to work with toddler behavior is to give acceptable choices. So with the pacifier, limit its use to certain places. The choice would be something like, “If you want your pacifier, it’s in your room. Or, you can play out here without it. We can’t use it here because that’s not where the pacifier lives.”
  • Reward. Your child is venturing out of their comfort zone, and they deserve a reward for stretching. Some parents use sticker charts to help their child visualize how many days they’ve made it through without a paci. Some children respond better to other rewards. You know your child best!

Whichever pacifier-weaning method you choose, once you’ve made the decision to stop, stand firm.

Brace yourself against the tantrums and the crying, show the empathy that you surely feel (no one said it would be easy), but do not give in. You don’t want to send the message that if they yell for long enough, they’ll get what they want. Sigh. Some things are just plain hard.

When the going gets tough, remember that your child isn’t the only one who needs some empathy along this journey. Give yourself a pat on the back. Eventually, your child will give up their pacifier. After all, no one goes on a date with a paci in their mouth.