Dentists say that the pacifier can damage a child's bite. Pediatricians tell us that most children stop using a pacifier on their own between ages 2 and 4. Some research has even shown that pacifiers may reduce the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS - which is dramatically reduced by 6 months regardless of pacifier use. That may be the best time to remove the pacifier for good (any benefit from it has already been gained and detriment to dental health can be avoided). For many parents though, myself included, the pacifier is a self soothing tool that becomes their child's habit into the toddler and early preschool years.
I remember struggling with this question myself. My younger daughter (now a college freshman!!!) was a pacifier baby. I was really worried about weaning her from it so I came up with a plan to make it happen before she entered Pre-K. That summer, we spent a lot of time planning for school, including planning to give up the pacifier. I asked her if she had noticed any of the children in her sister's Kindergarten class using a pacifier. We talked a lot about how it would be without the pacifier and tried to practice sleeping without it. With our big day approaching we were all a little nervous. Fortunately, her sister was only two grades above her and she was going to the same school. Her first day went smoothly and that night as I was tucking her in, she knew that it would be without her pacifier. With big tears in her eyes she said, "it's ok Mama, I'll always have my thumb" and popped that thumb in her mouth! I didn't know whether to laugh or cry...she was struggling to make that sacrifice, and yet her little problem solving genious created a new problem!!! It wasn't until several years later that she gave up the thumb! The good thing was that she knew (from all our conversations about the pacifier) that she couldn't suck her thumb at school. So, when is it time to take away the pacifier?
Undoubtably a pacifier can interfere with a child's ability to speak. For that reason, I believe it's very important to begin weaning a child from a pacifier, at least during waking hours, early on. Giving a child the opportunity to speak is key to their language development and social development. This will have a great impact on their school readiness and their social interactions. The HIPPY program provides parents with daily activities to engage their children in school readiness skills. We encourage and inform parents how to read stories, play games, sing songs, count and so many other fun readiness activities. And, we help parents with questions they may have such as "when is it time to take away the pacifier?" Many times there's no "one way" to answer, but having someone to have this conversation with is a great resource!