How to help your child stop using a pacifier or sucking their thumb

How to help your child stop using a pacifier or sucking their thumb
Say goodbye to pacifiers and thumb sucking! Tips to help your child through this important transition.

The need to suck is a survival reflex in newborns. That’s why many like to have a pacifier or suck their thumb. After 6 months, they mostly do it to soothe themselves. But when should a child stop pacifier or thumb sucking? How do you wean a child off using pacifiers or their thumb for comfort?

At what age should a child stop using a pacifier or sucking their thumb?

There’s no definitive answer to this question. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends starting to wean your child off their pacifier at 12 months of age.

Weaning your child off their pacifier or thumb early on may make the process easier.

However, many pediatricians and developmental specialists believe that pacifier or thumb sucking may be necessary up to the age of 2 or 3, as it helps soothe children during certain key learning processes, such as language learning, potty training, and socialization.

Studies show that the need to suck tends to decrease naturally at around 18 months. Indeed, some children give up the habit of sucking their thumb or pacifier on their own, though this isn’t always the case.

Why is it recommended that children give up pacifier or thumb sucking?

For their social-emotional development

Toward the age of 2, children begin to experience frequent periods of intense emotion. This is a good time to help them identify their emotions (e.g., “I see you’re very angry”) and learn how to calm down. When you provide alternatives to pacifiers and thumb sucking for self-soothing, it helps your child learn to manage their emotions.

For better speech development

Children who still suck their thumb or a pacifier around age 3 may not be able to position their tongue properly in their mouth when swallowing or talking. This can lead to a lisp (mispronouncing certain sounds) or problems swallowing (drooling). If you have any concerns about your child’s language development, discuss them with your child’s doctor or see a speech-language pathologist.

For better teeth

Over time, frequent thumb or pacifier sucking can lead to dental problems. It can interfere with the proper alignment of the teeth and cause problems with the jaw and palate. It’s therefore important that your child stop this habit before their permanent teeth come in. If you have any concerns, talk to your child’s doctor or dentist.

“Orthodontic” pacifiers: Just another gimmick!
Doctors and dentists alike say that all pacifiers, including so-called orthodontic pacifiers, can have a negative impact on a child’s teeth.

How to wean your child off their pacifier

Some children have little trouble letting go of their pacifiers, but for many it’s a major milestone that can feel like a difficult loss. That’s why it’s essential to prepare your child for this transition and help them through it.

If your child is 2 or older

Choose a generally quiet, uneventful time in your child’s life to begin weaning them off their pacifier. Avoid moments when there’s a big change coming up, such as the birth of a younger sibling, potty training, starting daycare, moving, or parental separation.

Here are a few ways to help your little one put away their pacifier for good.

  • Take the time to talk to your child about giving up their pacifier. Don’t just get rid of the pacifier without preparing them first.
  • Read stories on the subject. Some children’s books (e.g., Cajoline : Au revoir la suce) suggest strategies that you can use with your child.
  • Gradually limit how often your child has access to their pacifier. For example, let them have their pacifier for naps and at nighttime only. The rest of the time, you can tuck it away together in a specific place. You might choose to keep it in a small box on the top shelf of their closet, for example. Stand your ground and only let them have their pacifier at the agreed times.
  • If your child asks for their pacifier when it isn’t naptime or nighttime, name their emotion and express your empathy so that they feel understood and know it’s normal to feel that way (e.g., “I know you’re sad that Mommy has left for work. But we’ll leave your pacifier in your room until bedtime tonight,” or “You’re upset because I won’t give you your pacifier. I understand. I know how hard this is for you.”). Then, guide them toward an alternative way to calm down, such as by giving them a stuffed animal to hold, reading their favourite book, letting them borrow Mommy’s blanket, or giving them a hug.
Involve your child in the process of giving up their pacifier. For example, ask them to help you make a little treasure chest to store the pacifier in during the day, or let them decide what to do with it. Not only will they be more cooperative, but they’ll also feel a sense of pride.
  • Be there for your child each step of the way and stay firm to prevent taking steps in the wrong direction. For example, don’t give in and let them have their pacifier again after they’ve managed to go without it for a day.
  • Ask your child what they’d like to do with their pacifier (e.g., save it as a childhood keepsake, give it to another newborn in the family, leave a note for Santa to take it away). Some children may just want to throw it in the trash. You can also ask your little one if there’s anything you can do as a family to celebrate the moment they give up their pacifier for good.
  • Avoid making your child feel guilty or comparing them to others if they find it hard to give up their pacifier.
  • Try positive reinforcement and praise your child for the effort they’re making to stop using their pacifier. The goal is for your child to feel they’re making progress and for them to be proud of themself. This will motivate them to keep at it. For instance, you can say, “Wow, you played outside the whole time without asking for your pacifier. I’m so proud of you!” and give them a big smile and a high five. For children 3 and up, a motivation chart can also be an effective tool.

If your child is under 2 years old

Some of the tips mentioned above may not be appropriate for younger children. Here’s what you can do if your little one is under 2 and you want to start weaning them off pacifiers.
  • Gradually start giving them their pacifier less frequently.
  • Try to find alternatives to sucking on their pacifier, such as squeezing a stuffed animal, hugging their blankie, or cuddling.
  • Comfort your child when they ask for their pacifier (e.g., tell them how much you love them, name their emotion, give them a cuddle), and suggest other ways for them to calm down.

How to help your child stop sucking their thumb

Getting your child to stop sucking their thumb can be more difficult than weaning them off their pacifier, as you can’t always control when they do it.

Here are some ways to help your child give up this habit.

  • Take the time to talk with them about no longer sucking their thumb. You can also read stories on the subject.
  • Use simple, age-appropriate words to explain why it’s important they stop sucking their thumb. Your child’s dentist can also talk about it during a dental exam to reinforce your message.
  • Take note of when, where, and in what situations your child tends to suck their thumb (e.g., during story time, in the car, on the way home from daycare). This will help you understand the reasons behind their thumb sucking (e.g., fatigue, loneliness, sadness) and how you can help them gradually replace it with other means of self-soothing.
  • Come up with a code together so you can discreetly remind your child to take their thumb out of their mouth (e.g., a little smile and a thumbs-up).
  • Offer your child objects they can fiddle with to keep their hands busy (e.g., a stress ball, soft fabric, a feather).
  • Give them something they can hold instead of sucking their thumb, such as a stuffed animal to help them fall asleep.
  • Encourage your child with supportive gestures (e.g., hugs, kind words, crouching down to their level and telling them you’re proud of them) and celebrate each little step forward. Giving up thumb sucking can take a long time and be a big challenge for them.

Things to keep in mind

  • Starting to wean your child off pacifier and thumb sucking from the age of 12 months can help make the process easier.
  • Letting go of these habits is a big step for a child, and they need support and guidance to succeed.
  • It’s important to actively involve your child in the transition away from sucking their thumb or pacifier and to celebrate their progress.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Marjolaine Giroux, M.Sc., psychoeducator
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: June 2021


Photo: GettyImages/martinedoucet


Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • American Dental Association. “Thumb sucking and pacifier use.” The Journal of the American Dental Association, vol. 138, no. 8, 2007, p. 1,176.
  • Brazelton, Berry T. L’âge des premiers pas. Paris, Éditions Payot, “Petite Bibliothèque Payot” collection, no. 587, 2006, 336 pp.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
  • Ponti, Michelle, and the Canadian Paediatric Society Community Paediatrics Committee. “Recommendations for the use of pacifiers.” Paediatrics & Child Health, vol. 8, no. 8, 2003, reapproved February 2018.
  • Canadian Paediatric Society. Caring for Kids. “Pacifiers (soothers).” 2017.

Books for kids:

  • Bergeron, Alain M., and Fil et Julie. Mélodie aux cent sucettes. Montreal, Éditions Hurtubise, 2008, 44 pp.
  • Daxhelet, François. Cajoline : Au revoir la suce. Blainville, Boomerang, “Cajoline” collection, 2004, 24 pp.
  • Delacroix, Sibylle. Cléo et le pouce. Montrouge, Bayard Jeunesse, 2015, 32 pp.
  • Lallemand, Orianne, and Éléonore Thuillier. P’tit loup veut sa suce. Paris, Auzou, “P’tit loup” collection, 2016, 24 pp.
  • L’Heureux, Christine. Caillou: la tétine. Boisbriand, Chouette, “Caillou pas à pas” collection, 2010, 28 pp.
  • Naumann-Villemin, Christine, and Marianne Barcilon. La tétine de Nina. Paris, Kaléidoscope, 2019, 32 pp.
  • Weishar-Giuliani, Valerie, and Roxanne Rainville. J’arrête le pouce! Champigny-sur-Marne, Éditions Lito, 2018, 32 pp.