Toddler Tooth Brushing Wars

09.27.12 After a full day, I don't want nightly teeth brushing to be work, too.


This morning, my son greeted me with only a T-shirt on. His slim little legs sticking out from underneath his still slightly rounded toddler belly. He looked up at me with a huge toothy grin and said, “Mama, you awake!” as if seeing me with my sleepy eyes was the most exciting thing that had ever happened. Then, he turned around and ran down the hall, tiny butt cheeks and all.

I love the freedom that toddlers have. My son thinks nothing of wearing only a T-shirt. If he doesn’t like a new food, he simply says, “I no like this,” and hands the half chewed tofu back to me. When he wants something, he demands it. And when he doesn’t get it, he cries. And throws himself on the ground. And then suddenly says, “I done now, mama,” and that’s that.

This ability to be himself at all times is awesome, but it can be particularly trying after a long day at work. My son’s latest freedom of expression act is not wanting to brush his teeth. I look forward to the time I spend with my son at night (especially his bath), but I’m starting to dread the after-bath teeth brushing. He starts to say “no!” even before he gets out of the tub. Then my part starts. First, the encouragement: “Ok, let’s do the tops,” “Ok, now the back,” Oh, look, your dinosaur wants to see how you brush your teeth. Can you show him how?” And, then the impatience kicks in: “We’ve got to get dinner off those teeth. Look, I see a macaroni. Let’s brush! Now!” “If you don’t brush your teeth, they’re going to turn green!” and finally, “Ok, I guess Mama has to do it.” Then, I usually end up holding him in one arm, his toothbrush in the opposite hand, and threatening “one less book at bedtime,” if he doesn’t open his mouth so I can finish brushing.

I started a reward chart this weekend in the hopes that stickers would persuade him to brush. It worked like a charm the first two nights, but I can already tell the allure of a sticking a star on a piece of paper with his name on it is waning. I’m going to stick with it, and I hope some brand new stickers will motivate him to get back on the brushing train. (I also discovered that taking his pic seems to work, as you can see at left, so maybe I just need to have a mini photo shoot each night. Ugh. Who has time for that?)

If you’ve got any advice for this working mama on how to get a toddler to want to brush his teeth, I’m all ears. I’d like to get this down before we start our next project: potty training.