In general I would describe my parenting style as “picking my battles”. Don’t want to wear your coat? Okay. Don’t want to eat your dinner? That’s cool with me. I put a lot of faith in natural consequences. I figure once he gets cold, he’ll put his coat on. Once he gets hungry, he’ll have something to eat. My job as a parent is to help him make the right choices, and to help him learn and grow if he makes the wrong ones. But sometimes things are non-negotiable, and sometimes there are battles we have to fight because their consequences are too important or too difficult for a three year old to comprehend. Things like holding my hand while we cross the road, letting me change a dirty nappy, or not touching a hot oven. But what about tooth brushing?
Tooth brushing is something I have tried to be really relaxed about, but clearly oral hygiene is important so it is something I worry about and it isn’t negotiable. Dil is partial to the odd biscuit and sweet like many kids, so I do worry that his sugar intake will be affecting his teeth. Over the past three years I’ve tried a whole range of things to convince him to brush his teeth and I’ve come to realise that it often takes a variety of methods. What works today may not work tomorrow, and something that doesn’t work this week may be more effective next month. Until he is able to fully understand the consequences of not brushing his teeth it’s down to me to help him establish good habits, convince him that it is necessary and can even be fun!
Like most three year olds, the second Dil suspects you actually want him to do something he becomes much more unwilling to do it. So here is a list of tried and tested ways to convince your toddler that tooth brushing is fun.
- Model good habits. Most importantly it’s key that we are modelling the habits we want them to pick up, this applies to anything we would like them to do more of. Let them watch as you brush your own teeth, and let them familiarise themselves with the action. Most children like to copy, so simply including them in your daily routine will help encourage them to take part themselves.
- Let them choose their own toothbrush. Take them to pick a brush featuring their favourite character or in their favourite colour. Of course their favourites will probably change daily, so we currently have a collection of about 7 toothbrushes. This means he can choose his favourite each day and giving them this small choice helps them feel more in control of the situation. Beth from Twinderelmo agreed that this worked well with her little ones.
- Try different types of toothbrushes. As well as choosing one with their favourite character on it, you could try varying the type of brush. If you use an electric toothbrush you may find your child would love their own electric version. We also have one that flashes, and you can even find some that are musical. I’ve also heard people rave about chewable toothbrushes, like this one from Brush-Baby.
- Try different toothpastes. I used to be really picky about which paste I’d buy, but these days whatever he’ll put in his mouth is fine with me. So as well as a huge collection of toothbrushes we also have a bathroom cabinet full of different toothpastes. Some have characters on (Frozen is the current fav), and some are different colours or flavours. Again letting Dil choose from a few options gives him the autonomy that toddlers crave most.
- Make it fun! Do whatever you’ve got to do. Pull funny faces, make silly noises, spin around in circles and stand on your head. Get your toddler laughing and it’ll be much easier to convince them to spend two minutes brushing those teeth. Kate from LesBeMums says having fun is key.
- Time them. This is a great way to make it fun while still making sure they are being thorough. Set a timer on your phone for two minutes, or let them choose a novelty timer to set themselves. An old fashioned egg timer would work well and they can watch the sand fall as they brush.
- Make it a game. Depending on your toddler’s interests you can pretend their mouth is full of animals/dinosaurs/bugs/little green aliens that they (or you) have to ‘get’ with their brush. This is a really good way of making sure they’ve got everywhere – “ooh I spot an elephant right at the back – get him!” and makes it a game rather than a chore.
- Find a YouTube video or song to help encourage them. Dil’s personal favourite is the Tooth Brushing Song by Blippi (which is pretty catchy I will admit!) but if you search for “brush your teeth song” there are lots to try. Bethany from A Blonde and A Baby points out that it’s also a great way to make sure they are brushing their teeth for long enough, and it also usually encourages different actions to get them cleaning their whole mouth.
- Use an app. Faye from Glossytots recommended the Oral B Disney app which is free and could be a great way to encourage children to clean their teeth.
- Sing a funny song, even if you’ve just made it up on the spot! Most kids love a bit of singing, especially if it’s a little silly. Nicola from All Things Spliced and Catherine from BattleMum both have children that love their totally made up tooth brushing songs. Anything to distract them from the task at hand!
- Let them have a go using a favourite teddy, or you! Demonstrate tooth brushing using any of their favourite toys, or let them have a go at brushing your teeth. You might be able to sneak a brush in and clean their teeth while they clean yours/teddy’s and it’s a great way to get them more comfortable with the idea of brushing. Emma from Ready Steady Go says this really helped convince her little boy to start brushing his teeth.
- Make it visual for them. It’s quite hard to ask young children to understand the importance of removing plaque from their teeth when they can’t actually see it and have no concept of what it is. Becka from Mummy Est 2014 suggests a great activity involving building ‘teeth’ from white lego. Cover the ‘teeth’ in something like chocolate and get your child to brush it all off to help them understand the concept of cleaning plaque from their teeth.
- Another way to make the activity more visual for them is to use disclosing tablets. If you aren’t familiar with plaque disclosing tablets they are chewable pills which temporarily stain any remaining plaque on teeth. They should be used with care for under 12s but are a great way to highlight the parts of their teeth that need extra cleaning and I know Dil would have lots of fun with something like this.
- The biggest key to getting your toddler to brush their teeth? Don’t stress. The more worried and anxious you get about the subject, the more your little one will pick up on those feelings. The more you dread tooth brushing time the more they will too. Some days it will be easy and some days it’ll be tougher. Some days you’ll he able to spend thirty minutes in the bathroom playing games and making sure their teeth are thoroughly brushed, and some days you’ll be rushing to get out of the door or maybe you’ll forget altogether. They’ve got their whole lives to perfect their brushing technique, and they’ve also got another whole set of adult teeth waiting for them. At this age it’s about establishing good habits, getting them used to brushing their teeth and beginning to teach them about the importance of good oral hygiene.
Hopefully you’ve found the above tips useful, and you’ve now got a new box full of tooth brushing tricks to help get your toddler into cleaning their teeth. If there are any tips or tricks that I’ve missed leave them in the comments below, us battle picking parents have to stick together! Good luck!