A mother asked me for help because she is struggling with her 4 yr old son
who often refuses to brush his teeth.
he fights back and
they end up yelling and crying and stressed.
She was asking how she can get him to perform this “non-negotiable” activity.
Here is my response – I would be interested in your thoughts:
Power Struggles are Painful
I recognize that this situation can be very difficult.
When we end up in power struggles with our kids it can push our deepest buttons.
The more it escalates the more we feel compelled to assert our authority.
I know that brushing teeth is an important thing to do.
I know that you are caring about your child’s health.
The thing is that this power struggle isn’t actually encouraging your kid to brush their teeth.
A New Approach
I would like to suggest a new approach.
One that starts with looking under the surface of things.
A good question to ask yourself is:
“What relationship to tooth brushing do you want your kids to grow up with?”
This question will present you with a very different way of thinking about brushing time.
Anytime we’re thinking about immediate behaviour modification
we’re missing the bigger picture of what long lasting life lessons we’re leaving them with.
Unintentionally Sending the Wrong Message
If your kid continuously associates brushing with conflict and struggle
then instead of learning the principles of self-care, of respecting her/his body,
of understanding the nature of how teeth work and their utility,
of instilling in them a desire to keep themselves healthy…
Instead of all those good things
we can end up instilling a resistance to self-care,
a rebellion against what seems good for us
and also a rejection of your authority
(which will bite you in the a– when they’re 16!!)
Teach Long Term Lessons
I gently recommend using tooth brushing as an opportunity to teach deeper lessons.
This may mean he won’t brush every night at this point,
but as he experiences your love and acceptance
he will learn to love himself so much
that he’ll want to do it just to care for himself.
That sounds like a good goal to me.
Letting Go of Authority
This new approach will certainly be challenging.
Part of the challenge is giving up on a sense of authority and control.
The fact is you are not giving up your authority,
but rather transferring it to your child.
This is a whole different way of looking at your relationship.
You will of course have to fight against your impulse to expect obedience.
Try and remember that your real goal is to instil long term attitudes
and not attempt to force short-term compliance.
The slower long-term approach always produces a more effective result.