Monday, September 12, 2011

Pick your battles

The other day, I was on a hay ride and overheard the following conversation between a mother and her four or five year old child:

Mother: "Are you enjoying the hay ride?"

Little Boy: "Yeah."

Mother: "No, don't say 'yeah.' It's 'yeS.' Say 'yes.'"

Little Boy: "Yes."

Of course, because all parents secretly judge other parents who make parenting decisions that are different from theirs, I thought this woman was being totally ridiculous and wasting her time. If you're going to pick a battle to fight with your kid, I think the yeah vs. yes battle really isn't worth it.

To me, there are a few battles worth fighting. We've fought with Mel to get her to wipe herself after pooping (recently won), clean her room (still in progress), and hold hands when walking down the street. There's also one other battle we've been fighting with her and I'm not entirely sure it's worth it....


After Mel's multiple cavities, we decided to enforce nightly toothbrushing. Apparently, we've also decided to subject ourselves to nightly screaming and fighting from a kid who really does not want to brush her teeth. Some of the excuses I've heard:

"I'm too sleepy."

"I'm too scared." (???)

"I'm so tired of doing things."

"I'll do it in the morning." (Yeah, right. I mean... yes, right.)

And really, I'm not convinced that her putting the toothbrush in her mouth and half-heartedly chewing on it has any cavity-fighting effects. OK, it builds a good habit, I guess. But when I was four years old, not only did my parents not force me to brush my teeth, I'm fairly sure they never even bought me a toothbrush... yet now I brush my teeth religiously twice a day. (I know three times a day is recommended, but only psychopaths brush their teeth three times a day.)

So I'm just not sure that with all the other stress in my life, if the toothbrushing battle is worth it. Is this really how I want to spend the few hours I have with Mel between daycare and sleep? Maybe I should just give up. They're just baby teeth, after all.


  1. My Cousin actually got a job because she said "Yes" not "Yeah".

  2. I don't think I would even notice...

  3. Fizzy- please brush those teeth! You would not believe the awful surgeries to dig out rotten baby teeth I witnessed when I was a peds OR nurse. I always thought the same thing, they're gonna fall out anyway... But some poor kids just start rotting and then they're in for hours of OR work and painful recoveries.
    You seem pretty savvy... Maybe you can find some tricks to get her to enjoy it. Or at least endure it. :).

  4. Maybe you could at least do a quick scrub with a damp washcloth or something? There are also those finger tip tooth scrubbers people use on babies, she might accept it since it isn't a toothbrush.

    In my mom's country people chew on sugar cane and once the sugar is all sucked out they figure chewing the fibers is just as effective as brushing their teeth... Not sure how correct they are but maybe some sugar free gum (I like Orbits bubblemint personally) could be helpful here. It would at least pick up the big chunks of food left in her teeth. And a good swish with some baking soda dissolved in water if she doesn't like actual mouthwash...

    A few years ago when we were teaching our oldest to brush his own teeth we had to make it more fun. So he would have to bare his teeth like a tiger and growl while we did the fronts and give his best open mouthed bear roar while we got the rest. It made it a little more fun for him.

    Anyway, good luck!

  5. I hear you about picking your battles, but I see where this is going based on my husband's experience: his parents didn't supervise his toothbrushing and he would go days without brushing as a kid. He still would if I didn't call him on it. I love him to pieces, but it's gross. They make cute Sonicare brushes for kids. Maybe she'd be into that?

  6. Maybe some sort of reward system for brushing her teeth? She could collect stickers until she has enough to "earn" a treat from a dollar store. It got my niece out of sleeping in a diaper.

  7. The best $8 we ever spent was on a electric toothbrush for our 2.5 yo. Pink, of course. It easily tripled the time she would let me brush her teeth.

  8. I hear you on picking your battles. I battle over bedtimes and eating, but I don't battle over what they wear. So the kid wants to wear red socks and knee high yellow golashes. The kid's only 5 once.

  9. I hear your pain. Brushing my daughter's teeth (age 2) is a nightly struggle. It involves pinning her down with one arm, while the hand holds her mouth open and brushing her teeth with the other hand.

    However since your daughters older that might not work so well. I've heard that they have toothbrush that sing songs for the two minutes your supposed to brush. Maybe this would entertain her daughter, and she'd know that when the song stopped she could stop brushing her teeth.

  10. Sorry, but decay of baby teeth could lead to abscess formation. I have seen too many admissions for a tooth abscess. Not fun for the kiddo at all. Try a toothbrush with music, lights or spinning bristles. Or, just do what I do every night, lie on top of her and hold her head while my husband brushes her teeth. Oh, the screaming...It's awful and I don't enjoy it at all. The neighbors probably think I try to kill my kid every night but hey, she has healthy teeth. Guess I choose to fight this battle.

  11. I worked at a surgery center where they specialized on kiddies 1-7 with tooth decay. A few have been sent on to ER because the infection moved past the gums into the face/neck. It's scary (and also gross). I think it is definitely a battle worth fighting.

  12. Believe me when I say I have tried every way to make it fun: rewards, a timer, tasty toothpaste, spongebob toothbrush, an electric toothbrush. It's always a battle.

    Obviously I don't want her to have dental problems, but I wonder if a 4 year old is even capable of brushing well enough to prevent those things. I feel like a lot of it is fluoride, diet, and genetics.

    Gum wouldn't be a problem. She loves gum.

  13. My niece is around your daughter's age. The dentist discovered several cavities at her last checkup and she may be facing at least one root canal (we hope not - $$$). Like your daughter, she isn't very good about brushing her own teeth, and isn't capable of understanding why this is important. Her parents asked the pediatric dentist what to do. He told them to help her brush her teeth until she's a little older. So they brush her teeth. There's some whining and the occasional tantrum, but it's non-negotiable.

    All kids are different. Her older sister was good about brushing at the same age. Then again, her parents were also more vigilant about standing over the oldest when she was first learning to brush. They assumed, wrongly, that the younger would follow the older child's lead.

  14. It seems like the mom was just correcting the child, not really getting into a battle. I think it's important to teach your child manners and courtesy and that is a good age to lay the foundation for that. At 4, most kids still need some supervision for brushing their teeth to make sure they are doing it correctly. I'm a tired mom too but you can't just throw thier health or manners out the window because you don't want to deal w/ it. If we all did that we would just have a bunch of disheveled heathens running amok.

  15. My parents sang a toothbrushing song to me to get me to brush. It went something like this:

    [My name} brushes her teeth
    [My name] brushes her teeth
    {My name} brushes her teeth.... before she goes to bed each night

    Mama X brushes her teeth
    Mama X brushes her teeth
    Mama X brushes her teeth.... before she goes to bed each night

    Grandpa X brushes his teeth
    Grandpa X brushes his teeth
    Grandpa X brushes his teeth.... and puts them in a glass

    I realize it loses some of the effect without the tune in the background, but I still love that song.

    Beyond that, I got nothin'. Good luck. When I wouldn't do something when I grew up, my parents used peer pressure. Like, "If you keep sucking your thumb in public, your classmates are going to make fun of you." It worked pretty well.

  16. My four and a half year old - brushes his teeth if he wants to (usually not) AFTER I do a quick brush for him. He does not like it, but I force it anyway - no tricks, no treats, just small threats - like mommy won't read books to you - an its over in 2 minutes.
    The grind has been on for more that 2 years now. Still waiting when he can do it to my satisfaction.
    Once we went to a kids museum, where there was a huge exhibit of teeth, with a huge tooth brush, and kids could "brush" I think my son had a goos experience with that - and was a tad bit more willing to do his teeth after that.

  17. I'd offer your daughter a choice: would she like to brush her teeth herself, or would she like Mommy or Daddy to "help" brush her teeth?

    I also agree with LauraFP.

  18. We all have our pet peeves and this is why some battles are waged. I correct my daughter when she says "gots" instead of "has or have." I am sure many parents hear me and think I am nutty for doing this, but it irritates me. :).

  19. We have a story: How the fairy got black teeth. And than the prince comes along and didn´t like the black teeth, and the fairy is sad and goes to a couple of people in the woods (like the hedgehog (?), the squirrel and such and asks how she gets the teeth clean, and every suggestion would not work for the fairy (like eating lots of snails) In the end she goes to the wise gnome who tells her to brush the teeth :) I make funny voices and stuff.
    I always had the policy that I will not make a power struggle out of tooth brushing, but not brushing has consequences: No sweets, no sugar. Starting with the chocolate milk in the morning. "Sorry dear, you did not want to brush the teeth yesterday, no sugar for you."
    You would not believe how fast they were to show me how well they can brush their teeth. I just had to deny sweets for like a day.
    We love toothbrushing :)

  20. I wondered the same thing when my son was a youngster, baby teeth and all, perfect, pearly white ones, gleaming from a broad smile.

    If I had spent the time then to teach him, endured his whining, I'm sure at 19 I would not be dealing with smelly breath and bad hygenics.

    What you don't impress upon youngsters early, you get later on when it is 10x more difficult.

    What's worse? He's got his father's genetics too which means ...

    his teeth are perfect - brushed or not... no cavities!


  21. LauraFP: We emphasize manners in the form of saying please and thank you, but the yes vs. yeah thing just doesn't make sense to me. Seems kind of subjective to me.

    Trinity: We've tried denying treats. We've also tried telling her that her teeth will fall out. (And pointing out her grandfather's teeth as evidence.) It doesn't work.

    A Doc 2 Be: My parents made zero effort to get me to brush my teeth. But I, like most people I assume, hit adolescence and didn't want to have dirty teeth and bad breath, so I started brushing regularly. And thanks at least in part to genetics, I have zero cavities. If you think about it, you could have pushed brushing and then your son could have rebelled by not brushing once he was old enough.

  22. You've made up your mind. If you don't want to fight this battle, don't.

  23. I'd also encourage you to keep pushing. Believe me, as the owner of kids her age and older kids, I can promise you that this is just the first of many absurd battles you will nonetheless have to fight and win. My oldest two hated toothbrushes and would cry (which at least got me some good visibility for a few seconds), struggle, etc, etc. I tried twice daily, but it was often halfhearted and lasted about 2 seconds because I just lost my oomph for fighting it My son had 8cavities, and my daughter had 6 cavities by age 4. We have both dental and medical insurance, and even with that, it cost us thousands out of pocket. And they required heavy conscious sedation/general anesthesia to fill them. On the other hand, I kept pushing with my youngest and persevered and now, at just shy of 4 yrs old, she had her most recent checkup...still 0 cavities. And she actually likes brushing her teeth now, too. Do you think your daughter would like those red chewable tabs we had when we were kids that show the plaque on your teeth, then you brush it off? My kids love them. They are hard to find in stores, but still sold online. If nothing else, can you take the "Cartoon Cuts" haircut approach here and brush her teeth with a tiny amt of toothpaste while she sits watching the TV? Worth a shot. Maybe she'll zone out enough to let you do it and eventually get over caring.

  24. I think it has to do with your commitment, because kids sense it. Currently, you're not committed. I think it makes sense to commit (but I started flossing my child's two teeth daily when she was 6 months old, and she grew up just thinking flossing and brushing was normal). But if you can't find a compelling reason to commit, give up. If you do commit, the screaming will end because she will realize you are not giving in.

  25. Try watching the Dog Whisperer.

  26. I would ask your pediatric dentist to do a CariFree protocol with your daughter to see why she had developed so many cavities--is it the bacteria in her mouth, the quality of her saliva? There may be more to it that toothbrushing. I would also put her on a xylitol regimen whereby she either chews a xylitol gum or sucks on xylitol lozenges several times a day. I am a dental hygienist which is how I know about such things!

  27. Anon: The dentist actually told us that she didn't have any enamel on her back four molars and that's why she got those cavities. He put a sealant on them when he filled the cavities and she hasn't had cavities since then.

  28. It may be worth asking the dentist why she didn't have enamel on the back four. Could she be grinding her teeth at night? That may be causing enough pain and sensitivity that brushing her teeth is painful.

  29. Here are some of the things that I've tried with my daughter that has alleviated this issue:

    1. Make teeth-brushing non-negotiable but give them a choice. If our daughter objects (fortunately only occasionally), we will carry her to the bathroom and give her an option of picking a certain toothbrush or brushing with mommy or daddy (as one of the responders suggested).

    2. Make it a family activity. If you're a busy parent, then something as simple as a bedtime routine with your child can make teethbrushing and bathing an enjoyable event for her.

    3. Buying an enjoyable toothbrush and toothpaste. My daughter really likes this organic strawberry flavored toothpaste that we got at target. We also have a hello kitty toothbrush and an electronic philips sonicare toothbrush. She sees us using the sonicare whenever we brush and she wants to be just like the adults, so she enjoys using the sonicare too (for her it tickles and makes the routine effortless), which is great for us because it cleans really well.

    4. Showing how squeeky clean your teeth are after a good brushing. THIS WAS AN ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY THAT WORKED LIKE A CHARM FOR ME. One day after the brushing I went to my daughter and said "Look, squeeky clean!" while scrubbing my teeth. She was so impressed by the squeeky sound that she tried to produce the same noise by brushing her teeth. When she did a bad job, I would suggest that she brush some more. Otherwise, sometimes I'd pretend that I heard the squeeking sound.

    5. Keep explaining to her that if she doesn't brush her teeth, she is going to get a cavity and it will hurt like h***, omitting the h-word of course. They may not understand much at first, but they know what pain is! Of course for your daughter, she has the cavities already and it may not hurt that much to her. But they will and you should have her fearing the cavities more than the toothbrushing.

    6. Pay attention to your own behaviors and other elders around her. After all, she doesn't learn them tone of behavior from herself. Take no offense though, I'm a culprit of trying to brush off my daughter sometimes and my partner's favorite lines are "I'm lazy", so I try to change my attitudes around my daughter.

    Hope that helps and good luck!


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