My son had been avoiding brushing his teeth for a couple of days before Christmas, and then on Christmas day, he’d eaten more sugary foods than he’s usually allowed.
My husband was getting concerned, and as a result I could hear him getting rather heavy handed about tooth brushing and trying to set a limit from a fearful place.
Because my son was overexcited and then intimidated by the severe tone of the request, he was not responding well. He really did not want to brush his teeth.
I noticed I also felt a little stressed by the situation, and at first couldn’t think of any playful way to respond, despite knowing this would be the way forward.
Then I remembered that my kids had received new toothbrushes in their Christmas stockings. Grabbing the brushes, I moved in and said, “Ooooh what’s this funny thing you got in your stocking? Is it for brushing your…shoulder?…toes?…nose?”
As I attempted to brush different parts of his body, my son jumped right into this invitation to play, saying “No! It’s for cleaning your teeth!”
I feigned ignorance, and then surprise. “Really? Are you sure? Can you show me how to do that?”
By now his his sister wanted to join the game too.
I played silly and asked them, “Oh is there some kind of soap you have to use?” I ran and fetched the dish soap and brought it in saying “Here, why don’t you use this?”
They both giggled “NO mummy!”
I ran back into the kitchen and brought the chilli sauce. “How about this?”
Both kids pushed me along to the bathroom, eager to show me the ‘proper’ way. “You do it here, mum, like this.” They showed me which “tooth soap” they used on their “tooth sticks.”
Both of them cleaned their teeth happily and playfully then, plus we got two clean mouths for the price of one!
My husband relaxed too. We enjoyed the rest of the day without anyone getting upset, and all feeling more connected.
I learned that my boy really wanted to co-operate, he just needed to feel my caring attention. He really enjoyed being the one ‘in the know’ and ‘teaching’ me about dental hygiene. And, since I had initially felt a bit weary and uninspired, it felt great to find a little unexpected pocket of creativity to make tooth brushing into a game.
Why it Works:
When children are feeling disconnected and out of sorts they signal that they need attention to feel better, most often by acting out. When Roma saw her son needing to reconnect, she chose to move in and play on his level, giving him a safe space to laugh and let his tensions go. As his feelings lifted, he was able to take the lead and complete the request she asked of him.
Need help becoming more a more playful parent? Read this post on how to get there.
Hand in Hand’s Five Listening Tools help parents reconnect with their children, bringing more laughter, confidence and calm into the house. To find out more get monthly help and advice and read Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges.