When children are at an age where fun and pleasure are the biggest parts of life, it’s easy to understand why any chore or obligatory activity can be a burden to both the parent and the child. Using force and punishment to get your toddler to brush their teeth will only instill negative feelings and make the whole ordeal more cumbersome for you and your child. Luckily, with the help of Dr. Vida Roman-Boey, there are many techniques that can be tried on your toddler to make the experience as painless as possible.
Make it a routine – At first, it’s going to be difficult no matter what you do. Humans, even little ones, do not like having toothbrushes or other things put into their mouth, especially if another person is doing it. Once you have introduced your little one to dental hygiene, you can start repeating the process to start building a habit. Be sure to be attentive and look out for things that your child responds to and start by building trust so that your child understands that this it’s a necessary activity.
Make it fun – Toddlers, just like people, hate being forced to do things they don’t want to do. Using force to enforce habits or activities will cause negative opinions to be formed, which in turn causes you to have to put in more effort. Why not try making it fun for the both of you? Activities like brushing your teeth, can be an opportunity for a vital bonding experience for parent and child. Dr. Vida says singing can also be used as a reward or gratification if the child likes music. Play a game that integrates teeth-brushing that takes away the negative experience of not being in control.
Show, not tell – “If a child sees a parent brushing their teeth, eventually they’ll do it too. It’s all about monkey see, monkey do.” says Dr. Vida. Visual stimulus is important because it shows rather than tells. Alternatively, accompany your child in front of a mirror before and after brushing teeth and see if they can tell the difference. This visible understanding of what brushing teeth does is reinforcement as to why your toddler should keep brushing.
You do mine, I do yours – Reverse the power dynamic by allowing your child to brush your teeth. This way the child feels in control of his or her own actions and will have fun doing so at the same time. These positive feelings will help him or her become more comfortable with the idea by looking at it as a playful activity. Dr. Vida suggests bringing toys in the mix too. Let you or your child brush their toy’s teeth and then alternate back to yours or their own.
Gauge the perfect time – There are times of the day when you know your child is either going to be very active or very sleepy. Some children might be more passive to brushing their teeth when they’re tired while other children might feel more irritated from doing so. In the same way, trying to brush a very active child’s teeth might be easier since they are more engaged in the activity while others will be easily distracted and want to move on to whatever’s next. By experimenting and gauging the reactions of your child at given times, you might be able to find a sweet spot to get him or her in the mood for dental hygiene.
Try with or without toothpaste – At this age, Dr. Vida say that brushing your toddler’s teeth without toothpaste is fine as long as the brushing is thorough. Some children might be more willing to brush their teeth with toothpaste that tastes good or has their favorite cartoon character on it, while some children prefer a clean brush.
Use distractions – It seems manipulative, but as a parent there are things you just need to do when worst come to worst. Take advantage of his or her short attention span. Offer her a type of toothpaste or toothbrush she likes and let her have a chance at brushing her own teeth, which Dr. Vida recommends should start from the age of 3. Once the child feels like they have some influence over the situation, they will be more willing to come to terms with something you want to do or are telling her to do.
Teach them – This might seem like a long-shot with a limited understanding but you can try your best to instill why your child has an obligation to these activities. Emphasize the positives of good dental hygiene and explain to him or her the consequences of not brushing teeth in a way that isn’t threatening so as to not incite further negative feelings. This is a good opportunity to integrate a story that helps them understand the cause-and-effect of their actions and promotes brushing teeth in a fun and positive light.
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