How Can I Get My Son to Brush His Teeth?

Filed under: Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Big Kids

Dear AdviceMama,

When it's time to brush his teeth, my son always puts up a fight. What should I do?

Dental Dilemma

Dear Dental Dilemma,

Your son doesn't like to brush his teeth for the same reason he probably doesn't like to do his homework, go to bed or take out the trash: Children are biased toward enjoying themselves as much as possible.

While logic and reason might help offer your son an awareness of the importance of dental hygiene, a 10-year old boy may not be motivated to brush his teeth simply because he knows he should.

Here's my advice:

Instead of making brushing a part of his bedtime ritual, consider having him brush right after dinner, or before a favorite evening TV show. Some children dawdle about brushing before bed to delay the dreaded time when lights get switched off. Unless he's eating after dinner, there's no reason he can't get the same benefit from brushing an hour or two earlier.

Brush your teeth together, making it a family event. You can even hold an occasional contest, where you all chew the tablets (or use the rinse) that point out areas on teeth that weren't brushed well. The winner gets a special prize for being the most thorough.

Buy your son an electric toothbrush. Many children enjoy using a "machine," especially if you also let him pick a toothpaste that he likes. Try adding music to his brushing ritual; most songs run 2-3 minutes, which is an ideal amount of time to spend on dental hygiene.

Find an older youngster who he looks up to and ask him or her to talk with your son about the value of dental hygiene. While he may scoff at your attempts to convince him to care about his teeth (or his breath!), he'll probably pay extra attention if an older kid tells him it's not cool to walk around with stinky breath or rotted teeth.

Create incentives. Some parents use sticker charts to help children track weekly progress to create motivation. Just make sure that you don't reward your son's improved brushing with candy!

Finally, create routines that you stick to. While it should be okay for your son to grumble about brushing, don't engage in power struggles. Allow him to vent about the fact that he thinks it's "dumb" and acknowledge that he doesn't enjoy it, but avoid lecturing. Instead, create clear, non-negotiable expectations while doing what you can to make the experience a bit more enjoyable. Someday, he will be proud of his pearly whites, and he'll thank you for helping him develop the habits of good dental hygiene.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.