The Secret to Getting Kids to Brush Their Teeth

When tasking children to brush their teeth, all adults know exactly what we’re asking of them. This straightforward request can take on new meanings in the simple, yet very literal mind of a child. In our house, to avoid loopholes and “forgetfulness,” we allowed the kids to practice brushing their teeth while a parent looked on, and then had Mom or Dad provide a little helping hand at the end to make sure all the nooks and crannies were reached. 


One night, after what I can only assume was a long day, I sent the little one in with the instructions to brush his teeth. I didn’t even stop to think about the Hallmark that this was as his first “solo drive,” as it was the same routine we’d practiced together for what seemed like years on end. 

 The secret to kids brushing their teeth

After a few minutes of silence (which is always worrisome in the parenting world), I decided to venture into the bathroom to bat cleanup on the toothbrushing. To my utter and complete amazement, there stood the little one, high on their tiptoes using a hair brush to meticulously brush his teeth. Utter confusion faded into hysterical laughter. In between gasps for air, I asked what he was doing. “I’m brushing my teeth, Mommy,” my boy said with an air of confidence.  


Well, of course you are. You are literally doing exactly what I asked. 


But, back to the point… 


After this, I knew that “brushing your teeth” would never mean the same thing in my family again. While I wish this funny experience made all of our teeth-brushing woes fade away, the truth is, making this habit stick can be hard. Kids evade brushing their teeth like the plague. They’ll even release the tap to let running water give off the sounds that they’re being obedient, and even think to wet the toothbrush in case of examination. 


It seems like the time that goes into scheming these elaborate cover-ups would be better spent actually accomplishing the task. 


So, how do you get kids to regularly brush their teeth? Bottom line, you have to make it fun.  


While ranking somewhere above doing your taxes, we all know brushing your teeth doesn’t ring high on the fun-o-meter. To make this a fun activity, consider letting your child brush your teeth first. This is particularly great for the younger set who love to mimic what adults are doing. One word of warning, watch out for their quick movements—they love to jab you with the brush! 


If you aren’t quite up for a kid-controlled toothbrush in your mouth, have your child brush their stuffed animals’ teeth. To make it more interactive, grab a puppet and open its mouth nice and wide. This is a quick activity that can be easily added into the bedtime routine. In addition, kids, just like us, have preferences. Take your kids to the store and let them pick out their own toothbrush and toothpaste. Even consider using this as a reward. The more you brush, the sooner you will need fancy new toothbrushes or your preferred-flavor of toothpaste. Thank goodness for Disney-themed toothbrushes! 


When you’re out, and the sitter is in 


Finally, if you think it is hard for you to brush their teeth, don’t forget how hard it might be for a babysitter or grandparents who are staying with your kids at night. Set your sitter up for success by laying out your kids’ favorite toothbrush and toothpaste. Also, if your child enjoys brushing someone else’s teeth (or their stuffed animals’), make sure the caregiver knows to expect this step. 


On nights you’re away, encourage your child to brush a stuffed animal’s teeth to “show” the sitter how to do it before they brush the child’s. This will make the child feel more in control of the situation and hopefully ease any anxieties. All in all, remember it is only one night.   


Encouraging good oral health starts at a young age. Even when it seems hard, or your child has figured out every trick in the book to deceive you, creating and sticking to a good routine will help support a lifetime of good habits.

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