As any parent can tell you, motivating children can be tough. A pediatric dentist knows that it's even harder when you're trying to motivate them to brush their teeth. Some parents and dentists try to reward children for brushing with sweet treats, but these just negate all the good their brushing did! If you're struggling to come up with new ways to get your kids to brush their teeth, maybe it's time to rethink your strategies.
Rethink the Idea of Rewards
Rewards can backfire because the reward becomes linked with the behavior in the child's mind. What you want to do is ignite their passion for staying healthy. Achieving new skills puts the attention on mastery, which helps kids internalize the behavior. Plaque disclosing products can show your child how effective his or her brushing techniques are. Available in tablets, swabs, solutions and floss, each leaves a harmless stain in the areas where plaque remains. Take a picture to compare with the next day's brushing and let the kids strive for a "clean slate."
Educate to Reinforce Behavior
Children really want to know "why," which is why they use the word at least as much as their other favorite, “no.” Helping them understand why something makes sense can give them the behavioral reinforcement they need. Present your advice in terms that make sense to the child. Try little quips like, “When you brush your teeth, the inside of your mouth tastes better!” Or, how about, “When your teeth are clean and shiny, you feel better about smiling!” You can even tell them the story of the French Empress Josephine, who always smiled with her mouth closed because of her bad teeth.
Accentuate the Positive
Positive reinforcement works wonders. Lots of praise for a job well done is much more effective than criticizing when it's not perfect. Appeal to their self-interest as well. Point out that the sooner the teeth are brushed, the sooner the bedtime story will start. Offer some control over the situation: “Would you rather brush your teeth before or after you take your bath?” And if the answer is “While I'm in the tub!” that can work, too. Make sure that your expectations are appropriate for the child's age and give help where necessary.
Make it Fun
A little levity can go a long way when you're trying to motivate your children. You'll find plenty of fun songs about brushing teeth on the Internet. How about a puppet to hold the toothbrush? What if you read a short story — or two minutes worth of a longer one — while the kids are brushing? That's one way to ensure they brush at least two minutes, the recommended amount. Kid-friendly toothpaste and toothbrushes can bring smiles and encourage brushing. If Mom and Dad brush their teeth at the same time, you're giving the child a role model and making oral hygiene a family affair.
Hopefully once you start to approach tooth brushing in a new way, your kids won't put up as much of a fight when the times goes to clean their pearly whites. Making sure your children are getting their bi-annual cleanings is another great way to make sure their teeth stay healthy and bright. If it's time for your child's next appointment, give our office a call to get one scheduled. We're currently accepting new patients!