A question I’m regularly asked by parents is, “how do I get my kids to brush their teeth?”
It’s a common dilemma in most households with young kids.
In the morning chaos before kindy and school, and then again before bedtime, parents everywhere are stressed out by what should be just a simple exercise.
Kids are human. And they’re like us.
If something is fun, they’re all in.
When it seems more like hard work, well, they’ll make it hard, hoping you’ll give in.
As a dad and dentist – I have four beautiful children and one more on the way – I feel I’m ideally positioned to provide practical tips on how to navigate this challenge.
More than just a skill, teaching kids how to brush teeth is an important lesson for life.
Let me share with you how I get around this universal issue.
You might be surprised to find, it’s simpler than you think.
#1 Set A Good Example When Brushing Kids’ Teeth
How many of us have tried the line, “Do as I say, not as I do”?
The problem with this approach is, it doesn’t work.
If you want your kids to love brushing their teeth, you need to do it too.
Long before they even start to make the connection they have teeth and those teeth need to be cleaned, your child must see you brushing your teeth too.
It’s a case of “monkey see, monkey do”. Brushing and flossing, morning and night.
Looking after teeth by brushing and flossing regularly, and doing it with enthusiasm in front of them, is the very best way to get buy-in from your child when it’s their turn.
They’ll see you do it, and without saying very much at all, they’ll come to accept that’s how teeth get looked after.
While your kids will benefit, you will too; in more ways than one.
Yes, you’ll still need to teach technique and guide them, but there won’t be the resistance that makes the whole experience stressful for you and the kids.
#2 Use FOMO (fear of missing out)
When it’s time for your child to brush their own teeth, another technique to use is FOMO – fear of missing out.
Nobody likes to feel like they’re missing out, especially kids and especially if it’s fun.
The trick is to make like they’re not quite ready to brush their teeth, but let them have a go anyway – only after the’ve asked.
In doing so, you create the sense brushing teeth is a privilege to be earned; a kind of exclusive thing for important people.
Of course, as teeth come through they should be cleaned, but you could also make the responsibility of kids brushing teeth associated with a certain age or specific positive behaviours.
You can always back this up with a teeth brushing chart.
Kids will enjoy marking off the days they brush their teeth, especially if there’s a reward at the end.
It only takes three weeks for a habit to form, so do this for a month, and you’ll have a happy brusher on your hands.
#3 Make Brushing Kids Teeth Fun
I know, it’s hard to think rainbows and unicorns when a four year old is having a meltdown five minutes before bedtime.
However, like most things with kids, if an activity is fun, there’s a much better chance you’ll win them over.
I mentioned earlier, kids are human. They won’t respond well when forced into brushing their teeth.
So looking for fun in this daily activity is vital.
To make things fun, I found a few things work really well.
Find something they love
Take something they’re keenly interested in and integrate it into brushing time.
My kids love animals, so we imitate the ‘growling dog’ and brush the back teeth. Then we do the ‘crocodile smile’ and brush the front teeth.
Maybe your kids love superheroes or ponies or monster trucks. It really doesn’t matter, get creative and your kids will love it and brushing their teeth too.
Talk about the Tooth Fairy
Before kids get older and wiser, use the Tooth Fairy to show kids how important good teeth are.
I tell my children, I’m good friends with the Tooth Fairy and they can be too, if they look after their teeth.
After all, the Tooth Fairy doesn’t just take any teeth; she takes the best teeth. The incentive of a gold coin will help too!
The Tooth Fairy at our house has even been known to sprinkle fairy dust on bedside tables as an added incentive to encourage our kids to keep up the good work in between visits.
Although there’s no foolproof way that will guarantee your child will learn to love brushing immediately, it’s important to be persistent.
You can also call in the support of your dentist or hygienist to help. Sometimes the power of an independent third party can help sell the story.
Just make sure you let us know, so we can partner with you on this.
Kids know exactly what to do if they want to get out of something like brushing their teeth and it’s our job as parents and carers to be wise to it.
Having someone take the time to teach this important life skill really is a privilege and it’s also a gift for life.
Stick with it, because it will be worth it.
Owned by Dr Les Jabbour, Define Dental is located in Benowa. As the Gold Coast’s premier dental practice that’s been providing quality dental care to local residents longer than any other, Define Dental has decades of experience of providing exceptional dental care for kids. Why not book an appointment with one of dentists and start your child on their dental health journey.