child brushing teeth

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The toothbrush wars – Five fun tips to help you get your kids to brush their teeth without a fight.

In our house, getting my four year old daughter to regularly brush her teeth has been a painful, but admittedly hilarious journey. One that I don’t imagine for a minute is complete. It is so important to take care of your teeth, problems with baby teeth can easily lead to long lasting issues with adult teeth. Tooth care is something that needs to be taught from a very young age.

From my experience, just grabbing a toothbrush and going for it doesn’t cut it. Toothbrushes feel strange, toothpaste is revolting, and it’s hard to understand why suddenly you have to perform this strange ritual, when you have never had to before.

Here are five techniques that we have used over the last few years, to start, and reinforce the tooth brushing habit with our sweet (sometimes) little girl.

Tell a story – I told my daughter a cute little story about the toothbrush princess who comes each night and inspects the toothbrushes. She is beautiful and kind and she looks after our teeth. It was all very saccharine.

My husband has a very tight bond with my daughter. They share the same wicked sense of humour and thrill seeking ways. Needless to say, my story didn’t appeal to them at all. The story that got her to the bathroom with toothbrush in hand quicker than you can say chocolate is a true one.

My husband put on his Halloween campfire voice and intoned “All the teeth that are in your mouth right now will fall out”. She was terrified, motivated and thrilled all at the same time. It wasn’t until a few days later that he actually told her that she would grow a new set of adult teeth. You know your child. Find or make up a story that will appeal to them and tell it… as often as you need to.

Bring a friend – Whatever soft toy is the current flavour of the month (week or hour), is allowed to come with her and watch her clean her teeth. She loves taking her cuddlies to the bathroom with her, and although we have a rule that they aren’t allowed in the bathroom when she is going to the toilet, sometimes having a cuddly with her when she’s brushing her teeth is enough of an incentive to get her into the bathroom to start without help.

Lead by example – Show them what to do. Go with them and brush your teeth next to them. Let them see that it’s what grown-ups do, it may take a few tries but pretty soon they’ll be emulating you naturally.

Play a song – Choose a song to be your teeth brushing song. Download it, or look it up on YouTube, and get your child to brush their teeth to the song. We have a couple that we dance to in the bathroom as we brush. My little girl’s choices are not what I would have picked (again, she has been highly influenced by her father) and we often have the B52’s-Rock Lobster or Iron man by Black Sabbath blaring across the tiles. It’s hilarious, and involves a lot of laughing and dancing along with the brushing, but it works for us.

Reward chart – Work out what your child’s currency is. This tip will NOT work unless you have done that first. There is no point in promising to reward your child with a trip to a one day cricket match, if they have a four year olds attention span and are into toy trains as opposed to team sports.

Once you know what reward will work for them (my daughter’s weakness that we exploit shamelessly is an extra bedtime story) set up a chart to record their teeth brushing results. Depending on your chosen reward, you might make it 3-5 whinge-free teeth brushes before a reward is given. When things start to get tough in our house, we re-instigate the reward chart, and I spend a lot of time reading about fairy princesses, ballet concerts and pirate dinosaurs.

Teeth brushing can actually be quite a fun experience. It certainly doesn’t have to be a fight every night. If you’re having trouble with getting your kids to brush their teeth, try one of these tips. They are all very adaptable to different personalities and preferences.

What other ideas have you come across to help with reluctant teeth brushers?