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How To End The Toothbrush Battle

In the past, getting ready to brush my daughter’s teeth felt like I was prepping for a battle. It certainly didn’t make the evening routine super relaxing or fun for either of us. I have a strong, independent, and opinionated 3-year-old. Aren’t they all? I’m quite sure that these attributes will serve her well as an adult but they can make life…er…a bit more challenging, to say the least.

In one of my favorite videos of Makena, I am trying (in vain) to brush my 1-year-old’s teeth and she is laughing hysterically and turning her back on me over and over, jumping on the couch. It’s an adorable video but little did I know it was a sign of our teeth brushing struggles to come.

If you have had similar experiences, then you can understand my desire to get the job done quickly and easily. I’ve tried many different techniques and games to make it more fun but mostly we would just rush through the process as fast as we could just to get it done. Phew, exhausting.

Many times it felt like a psychological battle between the two of us but what I’ve learned is that she truly wants to be good at things and teeth brushing is no different. Now I’m not saying that it is a walk in the park these days but once I started taking the pressure off of her and myself, things started to get smoother.

As caretakers, many of us are trying hard to be the best that we can be, and that can end up putting so much pressure on us and in turn, our children.

These days when we brush, I go as slowly as I can, letting her lead the process. She enjoys having the power to choose her toothbrush, put the toothpaste on and brush for however long she wants. Most of the time I finish brushing the hard-to-reach spots but sometimes I just let her do her best and I don’t take over. This gives her confidence that she can do it all by herself.

Since teeth brushing is something that they will be doing for the rest of their lives, the last thing I think any of us want is to make it stressful or negative. The more I tried to push my own agenda, the more she resisted. Once I let go (oh so hard for some of us!) and gave her the lead, the better and easier the whole process became. It’s so important for us to remember that our kids know more than we give them credit for and are much more capable than we realize. It’s one of the greatest joys to see your children gain independence and it can all start with something so small as brushing their teeth.

What worked for us: Give them choices. Let them lead. Slow down.

  • Giving them the choice of when to brush. “Would you like to brush your teeth first or put on your pajamas first”?

  • Choice of toothbrush or toothpaste. I recommend only two choices. More than that can be overwhelming. “Would you like strawberry or licorice toothpaste tonight?”

  • Choice of who is to brush. “Would you like to brush your teeth today or would you like mommy (or daddy or grandma) to brush?” I find that if anyone else is over at the house, like a grandparent or sitter, she would rather have them brush.

  • Go with the flow. Is it really the end of the world if they don’t get the best brush once in a while? I could be wrong but I think it’s more important to make teeth brushing a pleasant experience.

  • Slow down to practice patience and mindfulness. This is an opportunity to focus on your child for a few minutes and not to be thinking and planning what happens next. It’s a great lesson for us and it also shows our kids that it’s not all about “getting things done.” It’s about the relationship and connection between you and your child.


This blog was written by one of our guest WIC mom bloggers, Carissa. Wichealth supports dentists and pediatricians who recommend that parents help or supervise children's teeth brushing until around age 6.


About Carissa

I am a mom of a fun and loving three-year-old daughter. I’ve been happily married for fifteen years and live in Ojai, California. I have a strong passion for healthy living, exercise and travel. After becoming a mother at 39 I found a passion for helping other moms (and dads!) enjoy their parenting journey.


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