5 Ways to Help Your Kids Enjoy Brushing Their Teeth
Want to know what it’s like to get small children ready for school? Try screaming “Teeth! Shoes! Teeth! Shoes!” over and over again into a bottomless chasm. That’s a paraphrase of a tweet from the Huffington Post’s regular column, Funny Parenting Tweets, and a universal truth of parenting.
Now that we’ve all had a good chuckle or possibly smacked our heads at the frustrating truth of trying to get kids to do anything they don’t want to do, here are five tips that have worked for my wife and me to motivate our two daughters, ages four and seven:
- The talking toothbrush. This one generally works better with younger kids, but turning your kids toothbrush into a character that you bring alive through a funny voice is a great way to get them to stand still and focus on brushing. My wife is brilliant at this, and generally uses the voice to talk to them about their day, and give instructions like, “Open wide so I can brush in the back.” The downside to this is that you’ll have to pause your own brushing so they can talk back to the character, but seeing your kids’ faces light up with joy, and to have them actually enjoy the tooth brushing experience is worth every extra second. An alternative is to use a favorite stuffed animal or doll to facilitate the brushing. You’ll find your kids are way more motivated to do what the stuffed animal asks them to, and you can also use the doll or toy to demonstrate proper brushing technique.
- Calendar and stickers. Although stickers can be motivating in and of themselves, I recommend using the stickers or Post-it® Notes as a currency that allows your kids to achieve some sort of reward. Those rewards could be toys and trinkets, dedicated time to play their favorite board games, or something slightly counterintuitive like a family trip to get ice cream. Different incentives will be right for your family and your kids. It helps to design it so that your kids achieve some quick-win rewards, but eventually the incentives should be more difficult to earn.
- Brushing timer. There are several apps out there for iOS and Android that make brushing fun and engaging for your kids. Many of them use music or cute characters to get your kids to brush for two minutes and even tell them when to switch to brush other parts of their mouths. Before we started using an app, I’d never imagined my kids could be so excited to brush.
- Morning and bedtime routine charts. Children want to exercise control over their lives and their environments, and creating these interactive charts with laminated cards and Velcro can allow them to not only control the order in which they complete tasks, but feel a sense of accomplishment as they complete each task and drop the card into the container.The image shows an example chart my wife created for our daughters. Even though the cards are the same for both our girls, you can customize them for individual children.
- Brush and floss as a family. Kids do what they see more often than what they’re told. So one of the best ways to get your kids to brush is to brush with them and make it a family activity (even if it means you end up brushing your teeth twice at night).
A few more bits of advice:
Each of these tips will probably work for a while and then your kids will outgrow some of them, so you’ll need to change it up. As kids get older, they crave independence and will want to brush their teeth on their own. Most dentists recommend an adult assist in brushing until around 6 to 9 years of age, depending on the child, so even though it’s tempting to let them do it on their own, keep helping them to ensure they learn proper technique.
Best of luck as you embark on the Sisyphean task of getting your kids to brush! If you have ideas of your own we’d love to hear about them, and we’d also love to hear about your experience trying any of the techniques above.