Instilling Good Habits in Your Children

We often need to teach our children skills and habits that they find tricky. Teaching our children to brush and floss their teeth is important but can sometimes become a battle between parent and child.

Your child’s baby teeth are essential to the development of their permanent teeth, and most children don’t have the skills to brush their teeth unsupervised until they’re about six years old. Thankfully, there are ways to take the battle out of brushing and flossing time by transforming their oral hygiene routine from a daily chore to a fun family activity. This article is for the parent who is struggling with an uninterested or uncooperative child. Here are some ways you can help your child look forward to brushing and flossing their teeth.

Avoid power struggles.

While we understand it isn’t always possible, one of the best things you can do when settling your child into an oral hygiene routine is to avoid the power struggle you’ve maybe already been experiencing. The instant brushing or flossing becomes about who is in control, you’ve lost your child’s attention and cooperation—even if you win the individual battle. Instead, try to make brushing and flossing a matter of simple routine; it’s what everyone does to start and end the day.

Try reframing how you start the entire process. “It’s time for brushing” is a good start to keeping it a power-struggle-free zone. You’re letting them know they need to brush without making it a command or order. It’s a simple statement of facts: it is time to brush.

Do it together.

It’s important for your little one to see you practicing what you preach. Not only does it show that you really do brush your teeth just like them, but they’ll be able to learn how to brush and floss properly by watching you. Plus, if you brush your teeth together you’ll be perfectly positioned for making sure your child is brushing and flossing well—without hovering over them.

Since children under age six still need an adult to make sure every surface has been brushed, switch once you’ve both brushed for two minutes. You can brush their teeth and their reward will be to help mommy or daddy brush.

Let them choose their own toothbrush.

This is a simple way to make brushing their teeth just a little more exciting for your child. Nowadays there are toothbrushes that bend, light up, or feature characters from your little one’s favorite TV show or movie, so take them to the store and let them choose any toothbrush within your set budget. If they think their toothbrush is cool or fun, they’re much more likely to want to use it—and that goes a long way when the alternative is fighting them every inch of the way to the bathroom!

Play a song or podcast.

Is it a struggle to get your child to brush for a full two minutes? You can keep track of time and help it go faster by playing a song or podcast while your child goes about their routine. Try to avoid videos since kids can easily become so focused on the screen that they stop brushing. A song, podcast, or another type of auditory entertainment won’t distract them too much but provides enough entertainment for your little one—and you won’t have to guess how much time has passed anymore.

Make it fun.

No one likes chores, so do your best to ensure that their oral hygiene routine doesn’t feel like a chore—try to make it fun! How you do this might differ from one child to another depending on their interests, but try to keep the atmosphere light and fun. Entertain your little one with a fun jig while you brush your teeth together or think up simple games that won’t distract them from the act of brushing.

Be patient.

Young children are still developing their fine motor skills, so brushing their teeth isn’t as easy as it looks. If they’re struggling, don’t snap or try to rush them—simply be patient and offer encouragement. It might be a little frustrating, especially if you’re in a hurry, but it’s better for your child to take their time brushing their teeth than it is for them to rush—it means that they’re likely doing a better job and understand the importance of oral hygiene. Remaining patient and encouraging helps ensure that your little one’s regular oral hygiene routine remains a positive experience, which in turn means less resistance to it.

Set up a reward system.

Sometimes the best way to encourage your child to stick to a routine is by reinforcing good behavior with a reward system. You may have to play around with different rewards to fit your child’s individual personality, but you can try hanging a calendar on the wall and placing a sticker on it every time they brush and floss their teeth. When the month is full of stickers, they get a special reward, like a movie night out or a trip for ice cream. Depending on your child, you may want to offer smaller weekly rewards in addition to or instead of the monthly reward. A month can feel like a long time for small children, and weekly rewards can encourage them as they aim to complete a month full of stickers. The draw of choosing a special reward will help encourage your child to remember to brush and floss—and to do a good job—all without any arguing.

With the goal of a special treat in mind, your little one might even start reminding you when it’s time to brush their teeth! Not only will this make your daily routine go a lot more smoothly, but it’ll go a long way toward instilling lifelong, healthy habits in your child.