Before they even get their first tooth, parents start worrying about their child's teeth. We speculate on if they are teething, how to help them with the pain, the first dentist visit, the first lost tooth and for many we worry about that pesky orthodontics investment in their smile. We purchase infant tooth "brushes" teethers and cleaners long before our children can use them, but when the time comes, how will we really teach our children proper dental habits and how to brush their teeth?
Add character to the tooth brushing experience. Toothbrushes are available in all shapes and sizes, from bristles to handles but even more importantly to children, many of them come in the image of their favorite cartoon character, from Disney Princess to Nickelodeon's SpongeBob Squarepants. But it's not just toothbrushes -- many children's toothpaste offer a little bit of cartoon to the carton. Let your little character shine by choosing their favorite character brush or toothpaste. One of my daughters loves the Strawberry Shortcake toothpaste, while the other goes for the gold of Crest's SpongeBob. The bad news is that you will need to change the toothbrush for a new one almost as often as your child's interest in a specific character occurs, but the important thing is that they are brushing their teeth.
Power it up. Toothbrushes not only offer many different characters, but more importantly for some children, they light up, spin and even "tickle." What little girl could turn down a magic "wand" that lights up as it tickles her teeth to give her a beautiful smile just like her favorite fairy tale princess?
Set the example and make it fun. Children love to do whatever it is that grownups do and brushing your teeth is no different. When you are brushing your teeth, offer them their toothbrush and then play a game where mimic your actions. Try using Simon Says, "Simon Says brush up and down," and your children will enjoy this little "chore" even more.
Stick to a schedule. Establish times for brushing teeth. In our house it is in the morning before we get dressed (to avoid any little toothpaste accidents) as well as right before we go to bed. Include flossing in your nighttime routine when you aren't as rushed. To make your scheduled visits with the toothbrush more exciting, add a timer to the bathroom that they can use to track how long they should be brushing. Most dentists offer them for free, but there are some adorable egg timers out there that the children can have fun setting if you would like something that matches your bathroom décor.
Provide praise! Call it positive reinforcement or praise, but no matter what you do, don't forget to tell them what a great job they are doing. In my house that can range from a "Good job!" to "Oh my gosh your teeth are so shiny I can't see!" and the girls' personal favorite, "Mom! Come SMELL!" as they provide me with proof of their excellent brushing skills with a blast of fresh breath.
Just like any new skill your child will need to have your help at first and will need to practice, practice, practice. But soon, they will get the "brush" of it and show off to the whole family their fresh breath and beautiful, shiny smile.
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