Fame has its disadvantages. For example, if you’re as famous as David Beckham, you can’t take your 4-year-old daughter out in public with a pacifier in her mouth without getting worldwide attention.
The parenting choice of the 40-year-old soccer legend and his wife Victoria, a fashion designer and former Spice Girl, was highlighted first in the Daily Mail earlier this week. The British newspaper posited that allowing a child of Harper Beckham’s age to use a pacifier could open her up to dental as well as speech issues. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pacifiers should be discouraged after age 4.
Posh and Becks have made their thoughts clear: They say it’s no one else’s business how they or anyone raises a child. But what do medical and child development experts think? Is it wrong for kids who can walk and talk to use a pacifier?
“Obviously, this is a personal decision. Generally speaking, sucking on pacifiers is a good thing. Infants under 6 months who suck on pacifiers are at a lower risk for SIDS [sudden infant death syndrome]. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests weaning children off pacifiers between the ages of 6 and 12 months. From a psychological perspective, pacifiers can be a useful transitional object that help babies self-soothe and stimulate, so many pediatric psychologists tend to be in favor of children who need them, up until the age of 3 or 4. Over the age of 4, children who use pacifiers tend to have more dental problems, and may have additional problems with speech and language development. It also may suggest problems with emotional attachment that may need to be worked out.”
“After that picture surfaced, suddenly everyone became a dental expert. How about a sigh of relief? Every child develops differently, and there is no easy way of judging what is right for someone else’s kid just going by their age. As a pediatric dentist, I have good news: Thumb- and pacifier-sucking habits will generally only become a problem if they continue over a very long time. Regardless of your child’s age, I would highly recommend a ventilated pacifier, which allows air to circulate. This lowers the intensity of the child’s sucking habit and decreases the risk of growth and developmental problems.
Most children stop these habits on their own, but if they are still sucking past the age of 3, a habit appliance may be recommended by your pediatric dentist as a last resort. But make no mistake — these appliances will be cemented to the back molars, preventing any object from going into the palate. For one, this creates a challenge for dental hygiene. For another, I have seen kids find ways to suck their pacifiers or substitute with a different object even with an appliance in place.”
“I would certainly discourage pacifier use at the age of 3 and above because children are rapidly learning and using language through practice. Talking ‘around’ the pacifier affects correct articulation and clarity. I tell parents to imagine if they had to talk with a comparable-sized object in their mouth! Kids can’t be precise in their tongue and lip movements, such as touching the tip of their tongue to the roof of their mouth for a ‘t’ or ‘d’ sound. They could get discouraged when they aren’t understood, and therefore talk less.”
“In my opinion, parents are often far too eager to stop things like pacifiers, security blankets, bottles, or anything else that soothes and comforts. I am not a speech pathologist, a doctor, or a psychologist, but in my 25 years working with parents, I have yet to hear of any damage done by prolonged use of any of these things. A close friend of mine let both of her kids have pacifiers until they were at least 4, and I can tell you they’re both university graduates with fulfilling employment and have never had any speech issues. One child needed braces, but virtually all kids get braces now. I think the overuse of screens with babies and toddlers is a far bigger concern.
Once you’ve raised children and can look back at some of these things you were anxious about, you find yourself asking: ‘Why was I in such a hurry for him/her to grow up?’ In the span of a lifetime, early childhood is the tiniest little window. Children naturally let go of all of these things when they’re ready.”
“I look at David Beckham’s 4-year-old daughter with a pacifier and I think… nothing. I’m certain that Harper goes to a reputable dentist who informs the family much better than the public about the dangers of dummies, binkies, pacifiers…whatever. In my opinion, a pacifier has done its duty by age 3, keeping the child quiet and helping them sleep. But at age 4, it’s not doing any damage. Children don’t get permanent teeth until they’re about 6 years old, so let’s stave off judgement until then. I’d bet that David and Victoria’s daughter is well-fed, educated, and gets the best things in life…and that includes pacifiers.”
“There are so many individual considerations to be taken into account such as age, developmental trajectory, temperament, and medical needs, before jumping to a conclusion of harm. The bottom line is that it depends on how much time the child is using the pacifier, and is the use of the pacifier resulting in any interference with typical activities, such as speaking, communicating, eating, and regulating emotions?
It is not typical for 4-year-old children to use pacifiers, and use of pacifiers is discouraged beyond infancy. The use of pacifiers multiple hours a day, every day, can negatively impact language development, oral motor functioning, and the development of internal self-regulation soothing and coping mechanisms of any child. A 4-year-old who uses a pacifier on specific occasions for immediate soothing or comforting, but relinquishes it within a few short minutes and has already well-developed speech and language and oral motor control, in my clinical opinion, is not likely to be harmed by brief, infrequent use of a pacifier.”
Mayra Mendez, Ph.D. is program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California.