Getting kids to brush their teeth is one of those initial standoffs you're going to experience with your children. Children are programmed by nature to instinctively resist having things placed in their mouth, and a long vibrantly colored toothbrush with spiky things at the end of it is certainly enough to send a child into red flag mode. Regardless, as parents we need to get past this trigger, and thankfully hoards of parents before us have produced a few ideas that seem to work pretty well. Here are a few tips that are known to get even the most reticent child to enjoy brushing:
- Mirror Mom and Dad: Here is another situation where human programming plays a part in how children behave, yet in this instance you can use it to your advantage. Children have an innate desire to copy what others do, so having them watch you brush your teeth, as well as any older siblings already in the habit, can work wonders at introducing the task at hand. Also, suggesting to your child that they take their toothbrush and actually brush like mommy and daddy, can yield good results. Some parents have commented that using an electric toothbrush helps tremendously, since kids really seem to enjoy the whirring of the toothbrush - it makes it fun! Remember, watching is great in the beginning (particularly when they're very young), but make sure you're actually having them attempt to brush while you're doing so as well, to really begin to ingrain the habit.
- Brush in the bathtub: Speaking of habit, we all enjoy a familiar pattern, and children are no different. This tip works with that idea in mind. Parents have long noticed that for some reason children tend to protest the brushing of their teeth less while in the bathtub getting bathed. Perhaps it is the regimen of bathing that helps, or the idea of getting cleaned that assists the child in getting over the obstacle. Either way, this tip works for many parents stuck with a fitful child refusing to brush. Also, having the child in the tub serves as a sort of container for them, so they can't just wiggle away from you at will. In the tub, they're somewhat on your stage.
- Make it a game: The tub also serves as playing field to games, and you can use the occasion to make brushing a fun habit as well. Kids in the bath are often accompanied by their ducky and fishy tub-mates, so don't be afraid to brush the animals' teeth as well. You can do this on your own, in between brushing your child's teeth, or have your child do the animals teeth. A combination of the two seems to work well for many parents. Some have broken the task even further by brushing for a few seconds in the child's mouth, then a few seconds on the "mouth" of the animal. This seems to cut back on the stress of brushing for a few minutes all at once. Counting, by the way helps in and of itself, because children and adults are very aware of the time it takes to brush. By using this form of "countdown" both parent and child understand that when the "time" is up, the brushing is complete.
- "Sing, Sing a Song": The lyrics to this wonderfully happy song from the Carpenters can guide you and your child to brushing nirvana. Make up a song when you're brushing … "Make it happy, to last your whole life long!" say the lyrics, and you should do the same. This is your chance to put on your cornball hat. Kids love it when they're parents play around with them. So use this opportunity to make them laugh, and use brushing as the canvas for a song to keep them in the mood.
- Scavenger hunt: Many parents comment that making a game out of brushing can also make it tolerable and fun for the child. Talk about finding their favorite toys, characters and food in their mouths, and children seem to forget you're invading of their mouth with this giant torture device. Things like "Oh! I think I see a giant tomato in there! … better get it out!" create visual stimuli that children love.
- Empower your children: Some of us have children that want to do everything on their own. Well, here's a chance to let them take a stab at doing just that. If your kid is the type of individual who likes to do everything without assistance, let 'em try their hand at brushing. But be sure that independence doesn't come without supervision. If you child is using toothpaste, for example, you'll want to be certain they're getting the proper amount (not too much!), and are actually doing a good job. Provide a stool for them to be at the proper height to the bathroom mirror, and arrange for you to "inspect" their teeth afterwards. If you find any spots they have missed, this is when playing the game of "releasing the tomato from the molar" might be something you need to employ to finish the job. Allow yourself to have veto power over their efforts, and this exercise can work well with parents of entrepreneurial children.
Most of all, when it comes to getting your kids to brush their teeth, you have to relax and be creative. You might need a "time out" as much as your child needs one from time to time. And remember, don't be afraid to plan these events hours prior to bedtime … immediately after dinner, for example, so this isn't the absolute last thing you and your child do before bedtime. Piling up the least desirable task as the last one to do each day is a recipe for stress and disaster in our work lives, and it can most certainly be at home as well. So plan early, have fun, and let's get to brushing!