Is he seriously walking around with a pacifier in his mouth?
I’m going there… today I am talking about yet another controversial issue in today’s society – pacifier usage past age 1.
— Our pacifier experience —
For those that don’t know us in “real” life, our two kids couldn’t have been more different when it came to pacifiers; Apollo loved them, and Athena hated them. Apollo accepted a pacifier immediately at the hospital, and had an emotional attachment to his pacifier up until the moment we took it away. Looking back, when Apollo wasn’t eating or drinking, he had a pacifier in his mouth. I remember Apollo being so little and quickly figuring out how to keep his pacifier in place with his hands; because he would get super upset when his pacifier would fall out of his mouth.
Unfortunately, society only accepts pacifier usage up until age 1; after that, parents are expected to pitch-the-paci in the garbage, kids are expected to have a smooth transition to paci-free life, and everyone is supposed to live happily-ever-after from that moment forward… right?!
Yeah, not so much – I SO wish that were the case for us.
Lucky are those parents that were able to successfully pitch-the-paci, cold-turkey, and have a flawless transition to a paci-free-life. Lucky are those parents that pitched-the-paci without their child substituting something else in the paci’s place (hoodie-strings, shirt sleeves, thumb/fingers, etc.).
In our experience we didn’t have a smooth transition to a paci-free-life & Apollo totally made a substitution once the pacifier was gone.
— Why we took the pacifier away —
Once Apollo turned 2, and the criticism got to be excessive, unhealthy, and frankly overwhelming – we caved, gave in to peer pressure, and took the pacifier away. It wasn’t long after we took the pacifier away that we noticed Apollo regressing (skills he once learned, he didn’t have anymore), he became more dysregulated, violent and aggressive; and in an attempt to help himself self-regulate, he replaced the pacifier with his index finger.
I don’t think it will surprise anyone to hear that at this point I was devastated – for several reasons. One, I was devastated that I took the pacifier away due to peer pressure, I was devastated that my son was more dysregulated because of it, I was devastated because I knew that finger-sucking was going to be harder to break than any pacifier habit, and I was also devastated because I knew that we were never going to hear the end of the criticism.
In a desperate attempt to find an alternative solution, we tried to reintroduce the pacifier – Apollo refused it. We spent hundreds of dollars on fidget toys, chewies, you name it – we tried it, and Apollo refused them all. Apollo is now 4 years old and still sucks on his index finger. Looking back, it seems pretty obvious that Apollo needed the pacifier for self-regulation, but at the time we were so overwhelmed and worried about the opinions of others, that we failed to see the underlying need for the pacifier usage. Our gut instinct as parents, told us to wait to pitch-the-paci until Apollo was established in Occupational Therapy, and had more expert assistance with pacifier transitions; but we listened to the expert opinions of others, and now have an entirely different obstacle to overcome.
— Negative affects of finger-sucking —
Aside from being a visual eye-sore to others (as explained more below), Apollo’s finger is usually swollen, red, and has indentations from his teeth (from biting down on it). Justin and I have to keep a close eye on his finger because with as much as Apollo sucks on and bites it, he is at risk for infection. Apollo also has a severe overbite (from his teeth forming around his finger).
— “Why do you still allow him to suck on his finger?” —
Neither Justin or I encourage Apollo to suck on his finger – in fact, I really don’t like listening to the slurping sounds he makes when he does it (clearly I have sensory processing challenges, myself, because hearing it gives me goosebumps).
After asking the healthcare professionals for guidance, they told us to do our best to keep Apollo engaged in activities that require him to use both hands – and to ignore his finger-sucking when he does it. As hard as it is for us to ignore the behavior when he does it, we remind ourselves that he is doing so to self-regulate. The healthcare professionals would rather him suck on his finger to calm himself, than revert to previous unsafe methods (head banging, screaming, violence/agression toward others, etc.). We do not encourage him to suck on his finger, but we do ignore it, because that is what is in Apollo’s best interests at this moment.
— Warning! Parent shaming ahead! —
I’m sure that I’m not the only one that sees periodic posts on social media warning parents of the negative side affects of pacifier usage; primarily surrounding the dental concerns. In my eyes, the educational piece of these posts are okay, because some people might be new parents, or perhaps not aware of the negative side affects of extended pacifier usage. What is NOT ok is the parent shaming that usually is attached to these educational pieces.
Judgmental people quickly turn into keyboard warriors when it comes to parent shaming – and Justin and I have been the parents shamed in these types of posts, more than once.
Yes, you read that right – Justin and I have been publicly chastised for Apollo’s pacifier usage past age 1, and even more-so once Apollo substituted his pacifier with his index finger. The parent shaming became even worse when the negative affects of Apollo’s finger-sucking became visible to others (by looking at his finger and his teeth).
These judgmental individuals never once bothered to ask why Apollo engaged in said behavior, nor gave us the opportunity to explain; instead, they referred to our attempts at any explanations as pathetic excuses. You see, society views children who suck on their fingers as visual eye-sores, and views the parents (that allow finger-sucking) as lazy, incompetent parents that careless about their kids. At least, that is exactly how Justin and I have felt after these encounters.
I know we shouldn’t care what other people say, but it’s always a little unsettling when you are called pathetic and lazy in reference to your parenting; it still hurts, even when we know it’s not true.
— What I recommend to other parents who aren’t sure when they should take their child’s pacifier away. —
FOLLOW YOUR GUT! Seriously, nobody knows your child or your situation better than you do! Just because something worked for another parent, doesn’t make them an expert on your child, or any better than you – it just means that they know their child and what worked for their child best.
I REALLY wished we would have separated ourselves from the peanut gallery and followed our gut instinct, sooner. Pacifiers can go away eventually, but fingers cannot. I always encourage other parents to surround themselves with supportive, positive, loving people and worry less about the opinions of others; even when I myself have struggled to accept and live by the same advice. At the end of the day, you have to do what is best for you and your children. I believe that loving and supportive people will support you no matter what – and anyone that is not providing you with love and support has no place in your life; you deserve better!
You can tell by reading this far that this is quite the touchy subject for me – in fact, it makes me get a little fired up when I see other parents experiencing what we have experienced. I only get fired up because I care – a lot!
If you have been chastised for your child’s pacifier usage, my heart goes out to you; it sucks when you are doing your best and other’s are so vocal about how you are doing it wrong. Keep your head up, and keep moving forward! I am here for you!
If you are one of those people that have had good intentions, but have commented on another child’s pacifier usage, please consider that that child might have a specific need that is being met by their pacifier usage, and their parents are doing their best. A little bit of grace can go along way – and parents of children with special needs can always use a little bit of grace.
For everyone else, perhaps this is just an interesting read and maybe a different perspective than you would have otherwise considered.
As always, thank you so much for joining me! Let me know what you think!