Take The Fight Out of Brushing Your Toddler’s Teeth
What goes through your mind the you picture brushing your toddler’s teeth? Is it a scene filled with tears, pleading, running away and hiding, or is it just another activity you do together? If you’re more in the filled with tears scene, I’ve got some easy tips that will help you restore peace to your mornings and nights.
But first, let talk about why you’re having issues with brushing your toddler’s teeth in the first place.
Why Toddlers Fight Brushing Their Teeth
It’s no secret that part of healthy development for a toddler is to resist their parents, a lot! While not a favorite developmental milestone of most parents, it’s one of the most important milestones for your child. They’re showing their differentiation from you and recognition of their bodily autonomy. So it’s no surprise that toddlers often show their need for bodily autonomy during tooth brushing.
After all, you are sticking a foreign object into their open mouth and then vigorously moving it around. The object is pokey, you may accidentally cause them minor pain, and they can’t do much about it except cry and try to avoid the experience altogether. Couple this with the fact that your child’s favorite word is “NO”, even if they don’t mean it, and you get a twice daily battle between parents and their tots.
But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way. With a few minor adjustments, brushing your toddler’s teeth can just be a simple uneventful part of their routine.
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How We Successfully Brush our Toddlers’ Teeth
Before I go into a step-by-step guide to toddler tooth brushing, I just wanted to share with you how brushing teeth has never been an issue for either one of my sons.
I started brushing my children’s teeth when their first tooth popped out at 9 months for my first and 4.5 months for my second. It was a very simple task back then – prop baby up on the sink and brush with a finger tooth brush or do it in their crib. As they grew older though, they both took differently to tooth brushing.
My eldest just never minded having his teeth brushed. We brushed his teeth in bed till he was about 3 and then started doing it at the sink. There was a short period of time where he wanted to brush his teeth on his own. So we had to negotiate turn taking. But by and large, he has always been and continues to be pretty easy going about brushing his teeth.
My second has been a bit trickier in this department. He was super compliant about tooth brushing as a baby, but the moment he hit 1, his attitude changed. He would try to wriggle out of my hands, and move his head around in order to escape. But, he has one weakness – he loves playing with running water. So I would keep the faucet running, hand him his toy cups, and let him pour the water in and out of the cups while I brushed his teeth.
This worked for a few months. Then he started to get possessive over the toothbrush and would cry and tantrum over me holding the toothbrush. So I just got another toothbrush and we resumed our brushing. We often trade brushes multiple times during a brushing session. But he stays happy and I manage to get all his teeth.
Sometimes our boys brush their teeth together and it’s pretty funny to watch. My youngest (in true younger sibling fashion) wants to be attached to his brother and do everything he does. While my eldest wants space and be left alone. So it’s a bit of a struggle to meet both of their needs, but they figure it out most of the time.
Guide to Brushing Your Toddler’s Teeth
Now, as promised, I will walk you through how to stop making tooth brushing a daily power struggle.
- Be consistent – no matter how much your children fight it, make sure you are consistently brushing their teeth twice a day. It’s important for their dental health. And the earlier they get used to this being a routine, the better for their overall well-being.
- Be gentle and respectful – as I said before, part of the defiance may stem from fear of pain. If you’ve ever accidentally pinched or poked inside your child’s mouth, it may have been enough to create anxiety around the whole process. So make sure you are gentle and brush lighter if your child says that you’re being too rough or something hurts. You won’t get anywhere if you keep hurting them.
- Figure out the best place for brushing teeth – while you may be conditioned (and prefer) to brush your teeth at the bathroom sink, that may not be your toddler’s preference. Try out different places (that you are ok with) in the house and see if there is a spot that they like better. Maybe brushing their teeth in their bed works (just use the fluoride-free toothpaste so you don’t have to worry about spitting), or in a chair. Maybe they would rather do it in your bathroom. Just pick a mutually agreeable place and do it there.
- Find a toothbrush that works – the reason your toddler is fighting you is maybe they don’t like their toothbrush. For example, my son refuses to have an electric toothbrush, so I don’t even bother with it. Pick a fun color or a different shape. There is no shortage of variability of toothbrushes on the market.
- Take turns brushing teeth – toddlers want control – so give it to them. By allowing your child to have a turn brushing their teeth, you’re satisfying their need for control, while still reserving a turn for yourself. And if your toddler refuses to relinquish control, try my 2 brush method. It works like a charm. Just be prepared for a lot of back and forth trading.
- Make it fun – sing a song, recite the alphabet, do a little tooth brushing dance. There is nothing like a little distraction to help soothe a tantrumy toddler. Maybe you can make up a fun tooth brushing song and it will become a special ritual for your family.
- Don’t punish if your child is not cooperating – this goes without saying, but do not institute any sort of punishment for a routine behavior. It won’t end well. Your child will not put something as part of their routine, if they have negative associations with it. So no time-outs or threats of taking away toys or privileges. You want your child to like the activity. If they enjoy the activity, they are going to be more likely to do it in the future. I bet you don’t want to be forcing your teenager to brush teeth, so make sure your child does this independently before they get older.
- Let your toddler observe you while you brush teeth – toddlers are like sponges, they watch and absorb our every action. So let you child watch you brush your teeth. You can explain the whole process while you’re doing it, let you child see inside your mouth, and give them a turn to brush your teeth. It’ll be fun and empowering for your toddler.
- Praise them for a job well done – when your child finishes with tooth brushing, praise them. Tell them what a great job they did brushing their teeth and give them a hug and a kiss. Praise their healthy pearly whites. I’d stay away from any other reinforcements, except stickers on a sticker chart. If your toddler responds well to that, go for it. They need to feel accomplished not feel like they’re working for a reward when it comes to routine behaviors.
- Read books about tooth brushing – don’t forget to find some books about brushing teeth and read them with your toddler. While it may not seem like they care, toddlers absolutely connect to the characters on the pages. And if they see their favorite animal or character taking care of their teeth, they will be more likely to do it themselves.
I hope now you have a better picture of what you can do to gain your toddler’s cooperation when it comes to tooth brushing. You will feel so much better when you don’t have to worry about having these daily battles and so will your child. Because even though it may not seem like it, but your toddler does not actually enjoy getting into power struggles with you. They enjoy it much more if you are on the same page.
Recommended Products For Brushing Your Toddler’s Teeth
I just wanted to share my personal favorite products for brushing my sons’ teeth. I hope you find something in here that can help you and your toddler make tooth brushing more enjoyable.