Why I'm Perfectly Okay With My 3-Year-Old Using A Pacifier

Photo: Nektarstock | Shutterstock
toddler with pacifier

“How old is he again? Three, you said? That’s much too old for a pacifier. You need to take that thing away from him,” said the woman scolding me at the checkout line in the grocery store.

I didn’t reply, half because I didn’t care to and also because I was afraid of what venomous comment might slip out of my mouth. But when she reached over and plucked the pacifier straight from my son's mouth my jaw hit the floor.

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From. His. Mouth.

“You’re a big boy,” she said to him as she pulled it from between his teeth. “You need to tell your momma that you're too big for this.” 

And if this had been several years ago I might have fully sided with her, agreeing with her assumptions that kids should abide by the age-appropriate deadlines society set for them, but today ... I just can’t.

“I do it myself!” is the phrase that's thrown at me 15 or more times a day by my 3-year-old son. 

“I pick my own clothes!”
“I sit in the big people's chair!”
“I don’t want the stroller!”
“Diapers are for babies!”
“I don’t need help!”
“I’m a big boy!”

And he is a big boy. He is a big, robust, ever-changing toddler who, in many ways, wants to be much older than he actually is. In every way except one:

“I need my paci because I’m still a baby,” he says clutching a well-loved pacifier in his chubby hands. “I need my paci because I’m still your baby,” he says, this time in a tone that lets me know that he is reassuring himself more than informing me.

Does he still need a pacifier? No, doesn’t. Not in the same sense that infants do, but for him, he needs it for a different reason entirely, one that I am happy to support.

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He needs it because for him it’s the lifeline that reminds him that he doesn’t have to be “all the way big” as he puts it, and I can’t argue with that because from where I’m standing, he is far from “all the way big.”

When you look at his world from his perspective it’s easy to see why he might need some reassurance that he is still little.

His world has completely turned over with every year that he has lived. With every new stage, we enter from newborn to toddler, to now, so much of his world has been left behind. 

He watched as I packed up his baby items and put away the baby swing. He helped me clean up the highchair before we gave it away, a rite of passage that earned him a seat at the dinner table “with the big people” as he says.

As winter rolled into spring, he helped me bag up the clothes that no longer fit him, tearfully saying goodbye to a favorite shirt that he would never wear again. We’ve said goodbye to diapers and strollers, playpens and bottles. His most recent change came when I transitioned him from the safety of his crib to the freedom of his toddler bed, a change he took harder than I expected.

I’ve watched him closely as we’ve moved further away from the baby stage and more into the child stage. From what I’ve seen, he’s been scared.

You see at 3 years old, he doesn’t know where it ends. How big is he going to get and how fast will that happen? ("What happens when you get all the way big?” he asks me quite frequently. "Do you still need a mommy" or does that go away along with everything else no longer here?)

It’s all jumbled in a mind that doesn’t yet grasp the passage of time, the mind of a small child who just wants to know that his mommy is still here to take care of him.

This isn’t abnormal. Kids go through things like this all the time; they cling to blankies that have long passed their expiration date, they beg for bottles before bed, they potty train, revert back, and then potty train again, yet eventually, they all get there, all in their own time.

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My son, he’s about as independent as they come, but he’s also pretty sensitive. He’s the kid who won’t turn around to wave goodbye at daycare because he runs off on an adventure the second we walk through the door, but he’s also the kid that when having a rough day, wants some physical assurance that he is every bit as little as he feels like he is on the inside.

Today just so happened to be one of those days.

So, yes. To the woman in line at the grocery store, he is big.

He is a big, robust, and mostly independent boy who's having a difficult time understanding that he can be both big and little.

In a world where he wants to be in charge, he also wants to know that his momma will always be there to take care of him, and I can assure you, I’m busy reassuring him that I will always be by his side no matter how big he gets.

But today, today he hasn’t grasped that yet and today what he needs is a little piece of rubber that reminds him that he is still little.

So, here's what I say to you, the woman now holding my son's pacifier: I suggest you kindly set it down and back away because while he may be big, his momma is bigger and if he wants to know that his momma will always take care of him, I’m happy to reinforce that to him right now.

Starting with you.

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Eden Strong is a regular contributor to many different sites such as Lifetime Moms, XOJane, Scary Mommy, Catster, and Dogster.