Ever since your little one cut his first teeth, you’ve probably been asking him to open wide while you brush his growing number of pearly whites. And by now he’s likely got the brushing routine down: He’s seen how you wet the toothbrush, he’s watched how much toothpaste you squeeze out, and he’s even improved his aim so that he spits into the sink (most of the time!). So at this point, you may be ready to pass the baton — or, rather, the toothbrush — to the next generation and give your child the responsibility of scrubbing his own teeth.
But even if you’re ready to cede control of the morning and evening tooth-brushing ritual, your toddler may not be so eager to go it alone with his toothbrush. If he resists the change of guard, try these tactics to ease him into it:
- Let your toddler pick the supplies. Take your tot to the store and let him choose his own toothbrush and toothpaste. A colorful character on the brush’s handle may not inspire you, but it might make all the difference in coaxing your toddler to brush his teeth. Let him pick the toothpaste too, so that he’s sure to like the flavor.
- Lower your expectations. Your child probably won’t be cleaning the gum lines or reaching into tiny crevices just yet. Don’t sweat it. These early lessons are as much about instilling the habit as they are about technique. The more practice he gets, the faster he’ll improve.
- Take turns. If you’re really worried that your toddler’s teeth aren’t getting properly cleaned while he’s learning to take the reins, let him do the morning brushing session, while you handle the evening one. That way, he’ll get practice brushing on his own in the a.m., but he’ll also get a reminder of your technique in the p.m. Nighttime is also a good opportunity for you to get him used to flossing once a day before brushing (unlike brushing, flossing is something you’ll want to do for him at this point).
- Brush along with him. Get in on the action, and join your toddler while he brushes his teeth. Having a little camaraderie might encourage him to take a little longer and give his teeth a more-thorough cleaning. Try stepping it up a notch by setting up a competition (Who can brush every tooth?).
- Take a spin. Consider giving your child a battery-powered spin toothbrush. The novelty might coerce your toddler to brush his teeth. Plus, there are some toothbrushes that play a song until it’s time to stop, or signal that two minutes are up by making a noise.
- Find an ally. Ask the dentist to praise your child for brushing himself. Getting the thumbs-up from an authority in a white jacket will encourage your toddler to soldier on.