What to Do About Blankets, Pacifiers, and Thumb-Sucking

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I was a security object kind of kid. I had a pink blanket that traveled around the house with me. I had a stuffed Curious George by my side at all times. I even had a tiny little mouse with the fur rubbed almost clean off his head. His name was Freddy. I was an introvert before people understood introversion, and these security objects provided comfort and helped me self-soothe when necessary. They were part of my coping toolkit.

Until they mysteriously disappeared one day. Questions were met with vague answers and I did what I had to do – I moved on. One day I found Curious George deep in my closet and promptly put him back on my bed. Years later, I would find the blanket.

It might have been that I didn’t appear to play with them much or rely on them anymore. As I grew, I left them behind on my bed. I only used them at night. When I rescued Curious George from the closet, he stayed with me. He never pulled another disappearing act. These days he hangs out with my daughter. The stuffed animal that once brought me so much comfort now helps her to sleep each night.

Parents spend the first couple of years of a baby’s life teaching them to self soothe.

We try pacifiers, blankets, animal-blankie combinations, and any other number of things. We want our kids to learn that they can get themselves to sleep. They have the skills to handle that hurdle.

But then they turn two or three and parents start to panic. Will the pacifier ruin the teeth? Will the blankie go to preschool? What if the favorite stuffed animal is lost – then what? What about thumb sucking?

The potential problems are endless when we look for them. I always caution parents to slow down and live in the moment. Yes, some self-soothing mechanisms will need to change, but many kids drop those habits before they become problematic.

Here’s a quick run-down on what to do about security objects, pacifiers, and thumb sucking.

Blankets and Security Objects:

Enjoy them! I’ve seen second-grade students pull a well-loved teddy bear from a backpack at the end of a long school day and I’ve seen preschoolers stick a lovey in a cubby. Sometimes separation from parents is hard. If a lovey, blanket, or teddy bear helps a child feel happy, safe, and secure, let it be.

Do: The best thing to do is let your child decide when to leave the lovey behind. Most children start leaving the security objects behind on their beds when they’re ready to separate. Allowing the natural separation empowers your child to let go when he or she feels ready.

{ MORE: What You Need To Know About Your Baby's Pacifier }

Don’t: Do not remove the lovey and make up a story about the disappearance. This causes a breakdown in trust between the child and the parent and leaves the child feeling hurt and confused.

Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Use:

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According to the American Dental Association, both prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use can “cause problems with the growth of the mouth and the alignment of the teeth. It can also cause changes in the roof of the mouth.” That said, most children naturally stop these behaviors somewhere between the ages of 2-4, as they spend more time exploring the world around them.

Do: Older children tend to suck their thumbs or hang onto a pacifier when they are feeling insecure or afraid. To help them move away from these behaviors, teach them to verbalize their feelings and talk about alternate self-soothing strategies. Sometimes an old sweatshirt of mom’s is the perfect nighttime replacement for the pacifier. Talk about it and work on making changes gradually.

{ MORE: Check Out These Ultra-Quick, Ultra-Healthy, Ultra-Delicious Frozen Dinner Ideas }

Don’t: You should avoid scolding or shaming your child for thumb-sucking or pacifier use. The same goes for consequences. These strategies will only increase your child’s discomfort, increasing the urge to suck in an effort to calm down.

 What do you do about security blankets, pacifiers, and/or thumb-sucking? 

What do you think?

What to Do About Blankets, Pacifiers, and Thumb-Sucking

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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