How can I get rid of my 3yr old’s soother?

sootherQ. I have a three-year-old girl who is very attached to her soother. It used to be kept in the cot but came out of there and was used more when her baby brother came along 10 months ago. We have succeeded in keeping the soother confined to the house but trying to get her to keep it in the cot leads to a lot of tears. Her brother has one but only in the cot. I would like to see the soother put back in the cot or gone altogether. Should we try to take it off her altogether or try to get her to leave it in the cot. We did try for her to leave it for Santa at Christmas, but she said she didn’t want to and said she didn’t like Santa. I don’t want to cause her trauma but I think she is of an age that the soother should be going.

A. In a similar way to the previous question, a soother represents a comfort object for a child that they can easily become dependent on for comfort or for going asleep. While parents are often happy for babies and possibly toddlers to use soothers, they are less happy about preschoolers continuing the habit, mainly because of the social judgment that this is inappropriate and the legitimate concern that it can affect a child’s speech articulation.

It is a challenge to help a child move on from a soother, as it can become a little addictive and make it a habit that is hard to kick. You have the added complication of having a new baby in the house, and you want to make sure you handle the situation in a way that your daughter does not perceive it as favouritism (lots of children regress a little on the arrival of a new baby, as a means of getting their parents’ attention).

You can either make a rule of banning the soother altogether or use a more gradual approach and confine the soother to the cot for sleeping. The latter option will probably work better for you because it is the same rule for the baby. Either way you will probably still encounter tears, when she wants her soother and it is not available. In those instances you can be very sympathetic and comfort her, while holding your ground about the rule.

It can help also if you can distract her and have lots of positive options for her, especially in the first week or so. For example, when she misses the soother you can take out a couple of special toys or give her a special cuddle on the couch as you watch a DVD or read a favourite book together.

It is also a good idea to try to get your daughter’s co-operation before you start by explaining what is happening and motivating her by giving her a special gift to replace the soother or setting up a reward chart whereby she gets a star each day she manages without it. Another system is to give her three “tokens” a day which she can “cash in” for five minutes’ comfort with the soother. Over time you can reduce the tokens as she becomes more able to give up the soother. This has the advantage of being gradual while also giving her the responsibility of choosing when she needs the comfort of the soother most.

Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times, February 2011. John writes in The Irish Times Health Plus every Tuesday.