Hey there! You’re listening to the Mighty Mommy with some quick and dirty tips for practical parenting. Today’s topic is inspired by a listener who is having trouble convincing her toddler to brush his teeth.
Amanda wrote in to say, “Could you do a podcast on starting and continuing successful tooth brushing habits? I cannot get my 18 month old to do it!” Yes, Amanda, I’d love to help. I did some research on the subject and was not surprised to find that many parents are having the same problem. Many moms have shared their experiences with me and given me some great tips to pass along to you.
So, you cleaned your baby’s gums with your finger or gauze just like the baby books advised. Then you bought the cutest little toothbrush with the softest bristles, great for teething, but now your baby is becoming or has become a toddler and chewing on the toothbrush isn’t fun anymore. Most adults will remember the strict guidelines about brushing and flossing passed down from their parents, teachers, and dentists, but how do we instill these habits in our children? Of course, kids learn by example and want to mimic mommy, daddy and older siblings. Always be sure you are brushing and flossing, just as you’d expect your children to do. Make sure they see you doing it and invite them to join you.
Once your child reaches that age where he feels it’s time to make his own decision about brushing, he might decide that he doesn’t want to. If it’s a matter of not wanting you to do it for him, let him do it himself. My daughter recently requested that I let her really brush her own teeth. We have a routine where we brush our teeth together. My two-year-old son also joins us. We all brush at the same time and I call out the sections of the mouth we are brushing as we go. Once we’ve brushed all of our teeth, we brush our tongue and rinse. My daughter is older and does a pretty good job, but my son still needs my help. He’s usually resistant to me brushing his teeth for him. Why should I have to do it for him when he feels he’s already done it so well? Sometimes he’ll let me brush his teeth, if I let him brush mine a little first. It’s a fair exchange and if it gets me in there, I’m happy to comply.
Another thing that might encourage your child to want to brush or be brushed is to let him pick out his own toothbrush. I know, the cuter the toothbrush, the more it’s going to cost. You might have to buy a few of the pricier brushes with Lightning McQueen or Cinderella perched on the end, but it may be worth it if it helps your child get into the routine. I’ll be honest: I love the toothbrushes with the flashing lights that let you know when you’ve brushed for a full minute. My kids don’t like them as much, so we have Elmo and Diego right now and my kids have clean teeth. You can let them pick out toothpaste too. Avoid the fluoride paste until your child is two or until your pediatrician says your child is ready.
One parent found success in brushing her child’s toys’ teeth while the child was taking a bath. All the rubber duckies were getting their teeth brushed (with the back of the toothbrush) and the child found this to be great fun. Mom took turns brushing the toy, then a section of her daughter’s mouth. She did this until all of her daughter’s teeth were brushed. That sounds like fun to me.
I’ve found that several parents, much like me, find more success brushing their children’s teeth while the children are taking a bath. It makes it part of the cleaning routine. If you are just getting your child used to it, this can be a first step. Unless your child takes two baths every day, you’ll still need to work out the additional brushing sessions.
Some children are more flexible when they are distracted. You may want to try singing to your child while brushing or you could pop in his favorite video. Sticking to a routine is almost always going to work best. Once a child has a schedule and knows what to expect, the resistance should fade. Of course, with kids, you never know what to expect. Your child might hate brushing his teeth today, then beg you to do it for him tomorrow.
Finally, I’d like to say that while I do believe it’s important to make sure your child’s teeth are being taken care of, I don’t think you should let the issue become a battle. Fighting with your child about it will only increase the negative feelings surrounding the subject. Try to keep the topic light and fun. If your child becomes increasingly upset, take a break and try again later. Be sure to reward your child as well. If your child responds to charts with stickers, then put one up. If he responds to trips to the park, let him know that you are ready to go, but you can’t leave until he’s brushed his teeth.
That’s it for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening.
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The Mighty Mommy’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Practical Parenting is part of the Quick and Dirty Tips network at quickanddirtytips.com. This week Grammar Girl is talking about daylight-saving time so be sure to check out her podcast!
This is your friend the Mighty Mommy wishing you happy and fun parenting!
Brushing Teeth image courtesy of Shutterstock