The Terrible Trouble with Toothbrushing: A Toddler’s Perspective
[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages and Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
A Toddler Speaks…
Okay, let’s just get right to the point. I don’t like having my teeth brushed. In fact, I don’t think it’s overstating it to say that I flat-out despise having my teeth brushed. And I’ve got good, solid reasoning on my side.
Let’s look at the facts, shall we?
- Teething hurts, and I’ve always got either a tooth burrowing its way painfully through my gums to the surface or a newly-emerged tooth still partially embedded in inflamed gums or a tooth that’s just fully come in and is surrounded by irritated gums. Can you say, “Ouch!!!”
- I have very little control over the outside of my body. People (You know who you are!) are always picking me up without warning and putting me places I didn’t ask to go and wiping my face off without asking (Those wash cloths totally cover my mouth and nose, btw. Suffocation = not cool.) and putting clothes on me without even asking my opinion (Yes, I do have an opinion, and it is a valid one even if I can’t articulate why those purple pants bother me or why the brown shoes feel better than the blue ones.) and the list goes on. So losing control of the inside of my body is a really, really big deal!
- Ever heard of a gag reflex? If not, you should Google that. It’s real.
- Seriously, would you like someone getting all up in your face with a stick and shoving it in your mouth? (Btw, you might want to consider brushing your teeth before trying to brush mine. Or at least use a breath mint.)
Okay, so now that we’ve considered the facts, let’s take a look at a few suggestions to make toothbrushing a happier experience for all of us (Mainly me, of course.):
- I like choices, so how about offering some? You can let me choose between two brushes or two toothpastes or whether I want to brush before or after my bath. I may still be a bit resistant, but I’ll feel a little more in control of what happens to me.
- Speaking of choices, there are tons of toothbrushes out there, and some even have handles so I won’t feel like it can go down my throat and some have soft bristles all the way around the top so I can chew on it and get a lot of brushing out of the way painlessly. Who knows, it might even feel good on these aching gums!
- This should go without saying, but seriously, remember the sore gums, gag reflex, etc. Be aware. Be careful. Be gentle!
- Again, this should be obvious, but I am a real, live, thinking person with real, valid feelings, so how about asking if I’m ready to have my teeth brushed? And if I’m not ready, how about respecting that and modeling a bit of that patience you want me to learn (At least, I’m guessing that’s what you want me to learn since every time I ask you to play with me or get me something you say, “Just a minute, honey.” Just saying.) and waiting a few minutes. We could read a book or sing a song or something to get me in the toothbrushing mood.
- And speaking of modeling, go ahead and brush your teeth first while I hang out on your hip and watch. Seeing that it doesn’t hurt you and that everyone has to brush their teeth is very reassuring. Better yet, let me have a crack at brushing your teeth before you brush mine. Turn-about is fair play, right?
- I really do need to feel like I have some control over my body (Foundation for potty transitioning and all that sort of thing, you know.) so how about letting me brush my own teeth first and then you just finishing the job up and getting in all the hard places?
- Silliness is my language, so definitely get your funny-bone in action. Try calling toothbrushing more palatable names like ’tickling the ivories’ or ‘tackling the tooth monsters’ or ‘tickle teeth time.’ I may or may not go along with your goof-ball approach, but I’ll appreciate the effort.
- Get your groove on and start singing your way to sparkling teeth. You can make up toothbrushing words to the ‘A,B,C Song’ or ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ or whatever song you like. Something like “This is the way we brush our monkeys…no, that’s not right…This is the way we brush our toes…” combines silliness with singing. Win-win! By the time you’re done messing up the song my teeth are all brushed, and I’m giggling so hard I don’t even realize it!
Well, that about covers it. Give it some thought, will you? Your toddlers will thank you!
Remember, parents, gentle approaches to childhood issues won’t necessarily ‘work’ to eliminate normal behaviors, and resisting toothbrushing is a totally normal behavior, unfortunately. Gentle parenting is about working with your child through normal behaviors as kindly and respectfully as possible. They may still resist, but they will get that you aren’t just forcing things on them. Over time, your gentle and respectful approach will bear fruit, though, in a healthy, connected relationship.
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.