Like many developmental milestones, learning how to brush your teeth isn’t a skill that happens overnight, and it isn’t always easy. No matter how many books about teeth brushing you read or silly songs you make up, it can still be a challenge to get your child to brush—and brush correctly. Here are a few things about brushing I’ve learned as a parent.
Practice Isn’t Always Perfect
When I first began teaching my daughter to brush her teeth, it was a fun game to her. The novelty quickly wore off, though, and as daily oral care began to interrupt her playtime, she would often refuse to do it altogether. But building habits takes time. Some days, brushing was fun; others, it was impossible just to get my daughter to open her mouth. I tried not to sweat the difficult days, knowing that perfect brushing was less important than establishing the habit itself. Eventually, daily brushing became routine without struggle.
Don’t Give Up
My daughter’s favorite part of brushing has always been the toothpaste. Unfortunately she liked it a little too much, often trying to swallow it instead of spitting it out. When my daughter turned four, our dentist said she was old enough to transition to fluoride toothpaste, but when we admitted she tried to swallow it, he suggested that we hold off until she was better at spitting it out.
You might wonder if your children will ever stop eating toothpaste, but after a few months of instruction—and incentive to earn “big-kid toothpaste”—they’ll be ready. I was nervous the first time we tried, but we used a natural toothpaste so I didn’t worry as much, and she managed just fine. Some hurdles feel like they take forever to cross as a parent, but in their own time, every child figures it out.
Extreme Importance, Not an Extreme Method
Dental care is serious, but brushing doesn’t have to be. Even though learning how to brush your teeth is an important skill, it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with it, and even get a little messy. One of my favorite ways to encourage my daughter to brush, even when she doesn’t want to, is by being silly: Doing a little dance or making a funny face usually motivates a reluctant mouth to open. It may result in a fit of giggles, toothpaste dribbling, and a very prolonged brushing session—but it’ll still be a positive experience.
Brushing Is Better Together
Independence in young children is both amazing and incredibly challenging, simultaneously. As my daughter hit the I-can-do-it-myself stage, I was proud that she was finally able to manage so many tasks on her own. But when it came to things like brushing her teeth, I knew that, despite her protests, she still needed some assistance to get the job done. Talk it over with your child, explaining that although you’re glad he or she wants to do it alone, you still need to take a turn to help. It took some time in our family, but she agreed, and now we brush together every morning and night. She takes her turn first and then I follow up to make sure her teeth are really clean (they are).
What lessons have you discovered with your little ones about learning how to brush your teeth? Share your challenges and stories in the comments!