How We Solved The Toddler Tooth Brushing Power Struggle

Tooth Brushing Power Struggle Pin

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Is brushing your toddler’s teeth the activity you dread the most every day? It was mine, for over six months. When we first started brushing our daughter’s teeth, she loved it! We would sit her on the sink in front of the mirror and use a little brush that fit on my fingertip.  She would actually grab my hand and stick it back in her mouth for more brushing. I’m sure it felt soothing on her gums.

At some point the switch flipped and all of a sudden tooth brushing became a power struggle.  I mean full out kicking and screaming.  I didn’t want to force it but we had to brush her teeth.  We couldn’t let her do it on her own because she would suck on it instead of chew.  We came to dread two times of the day, morning tooth brushing and bedtime tooth brushing.  My husband and I even started arguing over whose turn it was to attack this feat.  It was soon clear that this wasn’t going to turn around on its own anytime soon.

So we did everything we could to try and make tooth brushing fun. I made up songs, brushed my teeth at the same time as my daughter, let her brush my teeth first then I’d brush her teeth, and tried a children’s electric toothbrush.  All of these were huge failures. Our tooth brushing experience got nothing but worse.

What were we going to do?? We couldn’t go on like this forever. Dental hygiene is so important and I was starting to worry about not doing a thorough enough job.  I took a step back and tried to view the situation with clarity and from my daughter’s perspective.  Here are the two things I discovered and that ultimately solved our tooth brushing struggles:



This was largely a matter of having power and independence.

Having power is the ability to make choices. Do I argue and complain when I’m told to do something I don’t want to and don’t understand? You betcha!  This is all that my daughter was doing. She didn’t want to brush her teeth and didn’t understand why we were making her do this. I had to find a way to give her some power back in this situation.  We had to brush her teeth, but there had to be a way for her to have some choices.

I began asking my little girl if she wanted to brush her teeth in the bathroom or on the couch.   She would shout “couch!”, excited that she got a choice in the matter. I couldn’t offer whether or not to brush teeth, but I could give choices on where and how.  I immediately saw a change in how these encounters went.  She was very excited about the choice and started to occasionally become cooperative.  This was a huge improvement! I’ll take an occasional fuss-free tooth brushing any day!

Tooth brushing is way too serious.

Let’s face it, tooth brushing is boring.  I had already tried songs and games.  We actually turned this around accidentally.  After a game of tickling I blurted out “let’s tickle your teeth now!”. I was shocked when I heard “yaaayyy!”  Of course I asked “do you want to tickle your teeth in the bathroom or on the couch?” The response was “couch!” as always. So we tickled my daughter’s teeth with her toothbrush on the couch. It went so well! Then it happened again and again. This made tooth brushing go smoothly about 50% of the time.  Much better than never.

Most recently I’ve incorporated asking “do you want daddy to brush your teeth, or do you want mommy to brush your teeth?” This seemed to help even more.  We are now probably around 90% of the time having full cooperation with tooth brushing. It is amazing! I have really learned that giving choices and sharing power is key to communication with my strong willed child.  Hopefully this will help you be creative in solving your own tooth brushing power struggles. Don’t expect it to work overnight. Consistency is key. Good luck! Parenting is such a fun ride!


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