We’re told by dentists that it’s important to brush our tot’s teeth. What they don’t tell you is that you need the jaws of life to get in there. We’re usually so hell-bent on following doctor’s orders that our ‘life-or-death attitude’ about cavities stirs up enough resistance to make a donkey proud.
Time to get tactical! Here’s how:
- Empower them. Allow them to pick their own toothbrush at the store. Sounds small, but it’s huge to them. Allow them to brush first, and you go second. They need to feel they are managing their own body.
- Teach instead of criticize. Generally, children don’t like to be corrected, but they will alter their behaviours to do more of the things you notice. “Nice circular motion you got going there with your brush” is more effective than “don’t brush up and down”. Try “You have nice minty fresh breath that makes me want to kiss and cuddle you!” rather than “Stand back, you’ve got bad breath.”
- Overcome obstacles. If they have sensory issues, and complain that the toothpaste is too spicy, try switching bands to something like a T.O.M’s Silly Strawberry, Weleda or plain old baking soda.
- Use humour and distraction. Turn tooth brushing into a fun activity by making up a song or game. I used to pretend I was the ‘germ detector’ and would go on a Hide and Seek mission in their mouth with their toothbrush: “I’m gonna find you, germs…are you hiding back here? How about on this tooth? Hmmmm—what did you do with all the germs? Did you brush them all off? Good job!”
- Offer a choice. If you’ve been fighting this battle for awhile, they may automatically say “NO” to anything that has to do with a toothbrush. Try offering alternatives: an oral rinse (suitable for children) or flossing, heck, even a piece of gum or eating an apple with help eradicate plaque while you work through the resistance.
- Tie freedoms and responsibilities together. If they would like to eat food that has sugar in it, they must be willing to brush that sugar off. If they refuse to brush, let them know that is their choice, but that means sugary foods are out. Sugar is found in milk and juice, not just candies, remember. I called it The Caveman Diet. If they got slack on their brushing, I would only serve meat, veggies and fruit until I saw they were managing their dental hygiene appropriately.
- Use a WHEN/THEN statement. Instead of threats and bribes, you can enforce step #7 with toddlers and preschoolers by using something like this: “WHEN you brush, THEN I’ll know you are ready for sugar.” Or, state it in a more natural way: “We have to get the old sugar bugs off first before we eat more sugar”. Kids understand this logically, and now see the inherent benefit in brushing.
- Handling bedtime brushing delays. Refusing to brush at bedtime is usually a toddler’s smart tactic for dawdling and dragging out bedtime. Don’t let them succeed with this tactic. Announce it’s time for tooth brushing and if you have no takers, simply move on to story time. Yes, you heard me, allow them to go to bed with unbrushed teeth. It should only be for a few nights while they realize you actually get a longer tuck-in if you do brush your teeth and brush them for a really long time!
Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and best-selling author of Honey, I Wrecked the Kids
, Breaking The Good Mom Myth
and Ain't Misbehavin'
. She is host of TV's "The Parenting Show" and an international speaker. Visit www.alysonschafer.com
for more parenting tips.
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