How to (gently) get your child to brush their teeth

child to brush their teeth

For most parents, the phrase “I don’t want to brush my teeth” is rather familiar. While it may seem easiest to pry their mouth open and force them to brush, research suggests there are better ways that may positively influence children’s future dental health.

So, what does the literature say you should do to help children brush their teeth?

What is gentle parenting?

Gentle parenting centres around respect for the child. Parents who practise this approach generally avoid artificial or extrinsic rewards or punishments.

child to brush their teeth

These parents try to help their children habituate appropriate, or what we would call “good”, behaviours. The idea is the child should want to do the “right” thing for its own sake, not because it’s accompanied by a reward or because of the threat of a punishment.

Studies suggest this method is effective because children will go on to have superior social skills and fewer behavioural problems. The effect is believed to continue into adulthood.

Contrary to popular belief, this style of parenting does not eschew “consequences”. Rather, consequences are allowed to flow naturally from behaviour. Although, in the case of dental hygiene, we can’t let the natural consequence of not brushing lead to caries. So, what can you do?

When should you start encouraging dental hygiene?

One of the ways to ensure children brush their teeth, without resorting to bribes or punishments, is to start early. Dentists suggest brushing baby’s first teeth when they appear, even wiping gums, may help establish good dental hygiene early.

By starting early with dental care, it will become an established part of life and may cause fewer power struggles.

Does routine help?

Routine is said to be essential in children’s lives. Studies suggest routine can positively impact on children habituating positive behaviours because of the repeated exposure.

Families who provide a loving and consistent structure are more likely to have children who brush their teeth. Studies suggest taking a gamification approach creates an environment of fun around the routine of toothbrushing, creating better long-term oral hygiene.

Common areas that cause problems with brushing

One common issue is toothpaste. Children report not liking the taste or it making them feel funny. If your child won’t use toothpaste, but is otherwise OK with brushing, dentists recommend making the paste optional.

There are also many other flavours on the market besides mint, which some children may prefer to use and which may reduce the issue with refusal to brush their teeth.

But changing the toothpaste may not be enough. Studies suggest children’s refusal to brush teeth can create major family dramas, and parents report tooth brushing as a major site of power struggles. But effective behaviour management leads to children with fewer caries and healthy mouths.

Practical measures

When children refuse to brush their teeth, we can employ respectful methods to encourage them to develop good dental hygiene. Dentists report positive parent-child interactions and the use of positive discipline can result in good teeth brushing behaviour.

One example is having a special song that is sung only when the child allows their parent to brush their teeth.

Another strategy is reading stories about teeth brushing so children understand the importance of good dental hygiene.

Some suggest allowing your child to carefully brush your teeth, and then you can have a turn at theirs. This approach gives the child power and allows them to explore their feelings about having their teeth brushed.

Making it a game is another strategy. Perhaps you and your child can have a competition to see who can make the most spit at the end or whether you can count all your teeth as you go. Another option is to let the child start by brushing their toy’s teeth.

Having our children learn to brush their teeth in a calm and gentle way, without threats or rewards, is essential, with one dentist suggesting dental phobia is a problem when children have negative experiences at the dentist because of early childhood caries. Dental phobia is a fear of the dentist that prevents people with dental issues seeking help from a dentist.

These strategies can help children who are resistant to brushing to engage positively with dental hygiene. This approach takes longer than prying their mouths open and forcing them to have their teeth brushed, because you’re asking your child to engage with something they’re resisting. But the value is they will habituate good dental hygiene practices and you can end power struggles over teeth brushing.The Conversation

About the Author:

Rebecca English is a Lecturer in Education at the Queensland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Main image credit: Deposit Photos

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This is The Worst Parenting Advice I’ve Ever Received

When I was pregnant with my children, I think I read just about every single pregnancy and baby book out there. I had a plan for everything, and probably even plans for making those plans. I had opinions on everything, and I knew exactly how it was all going to work.

And then I actually went into labour, brought home a baby and everything changed! That’s when the learning really started.

My gorgeous sister in law had a baby recently, and of course she’s been asking for advice. So I couldn’t resist giving her the best of the worst parenting advice that I’d ever heard.

worst parenting advice

You’ll need to toughen up your nipples for breastfeeding.

Sorry, what? How exactly do you go about doing that? Sandpaper? A gentle 10 minute squeeze with a nutcracker? The mind boggles.

If your baby bites you while you’re breastfeeding, bite him back.

Awesome advice. And if the little bugger happens to pee on you while you’re changing his nappy, well, just pee on him right back!

Sleep as much as you can while you’re pregnant because you won’t get any once the baby arrives.

Yep, start socking away some hours in the sleep bank. Because that’s going to help.

You shouldn’t swim while you’re pregnant because your baby could drown.

Somebody actually said this to a friend of mine while she was in the pool. Good thing they didn’t see her heading for the showers. Apparently, you also shouldn’t stretch your arms above your head while you’re pregnant, either, because the cord will wrap around the baby’s neck. Not even sure how to react to that one!

Get all your household chores done while the baby’s sleeping.

Because your number one priority with a new baby is a tidy house. Don’t shower, or even have a cup of coffee while it’s still hot. Get those chores done.

Never let that baby cry.

Not once, not ever, right? Because you’ll ruin him for life if you ever let him cry.

You should be doing controlled crying.

Because you’ll ruin that baby if you pick him up every time he cries.

(See how those two work? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, right?)

Put some vodka in that baby’s bottle. He’ll sleep.

I’m sure he will. But I need that alcohol waaaay more than the baby does.

Keep that baby awake during the day, and he’ll sleep at night.

Yes, that definitely works. The baby will never get so goddamn tired that he Won’t. Sleep. At. All. and is completely hysterical and so are you.

If you really wanted the best education for your child, you’d homeschool.

That’s right. I should keep him at home with me, away from people with actual educational qualifications, without any companions of his own age, and give up the work that I love. My mum planned to homeschool for a year while on a round the world trip with my brothers, and managed a whole week of it before she packed it in.

If it’s your thing, though, I take my hat off to you. You’ve got way more patience than I do!

If I were you, I’d …

Stop right there! Whatever it is, smacking; no TV, ever; force feeding broccoli. Thanks but no thanks. We’re the experts here, we’re his mum and dad. We know this kid, we know what works for him and what works for us. That look you see on my face? That’s my polite STFU face because I don’t want your unsolicited advice while I’m standing in line at the post office.

Best parenting advice ever?

Go home and have a glass of wine. (From my very lovely obstetrician.) Now there’s some parenting advice I can listen to!

Go on, we’d love to know. What’s the worst parenting advice you’ve ever heard?

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French Parenting Secrets

French Parenting SecretsPamela Druckerman, author of French Children Don’t Throw Food, shares her tips on raising well-behaved children using Continental parenting techniques.

Here’s a sample of her tips*:

  • “Let them know who’s boss.” You’ll often hear French parents telling their children: “C’est moi qui décide” (It’s me who decides), and even: “C’est moi qui commande” (It’s me who gives orders).
  • “Just say non.” French parents don’t believe their children should rule their lives, so they aren’t afraid to say no (and mean it).
  • Establish a “look of admonishment’ to silence your children. The French call it “les gros yeux” – the big eyes.
  • Teach your child to say hello to visiting adults, rather than just “skulk in under the umbrella of the parents’ greeting”.
  • Cut out the snacks. In France, children have one snack a day – goûter – when they get home from school. No wonder they’re so well behaved in restaurants: they’re hungry, so they concentrate on the food.

These are all things that I do with my own children, so I admit straight away that I’m biased.

My parents brought me up with strict rules, but with an emphasis on being independent and being able to do things for myself. I had a wonderful, happy childhood with definite boundaries, and a faith in my own abilities to go out and try different things, so this is how my husband and I are bringing up our children.

What’s your thoughts?

(Taken from The Week, 17-23 February 2012)

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