Encouraging toddlers to cooperate during toothbrushing can be a challenging task. However, it's important to prioritize their trust and avoid resorting to forceful measures that can harm both their dental health and your relationship. As parents, it's important to understand the reasons behind their reluctance and find creative ways to make toothbrushing a fun and enjoyable experience for them, while nurturing their trust in our leadership and guidance.
Understanding the Challenge:
It's not uncommon for young children to resist brushing their teeth. Not only do they not understand the importance of dental hygiene (no matter how many stories we tell or lectures we give), there can be other reasons why they protest teeth brushing:
- Sensory sensitivity: The sensation of toothbrush bristles and toothpaste foam can be overwhelming for some children, leading to discomfort or aversion.
- Autonomy and control: In toddlerhood, children are beginning to assert their independence, and toothbrushing may be seen as a task imposed on them, leading to resistance in toddlerhood (and beyond!)
- Boredom or lack of engagement: Brushing teeth can be seen as a mundane chore, lacking excitement or stimulation.
Peaceful + Playful Approaches to Helping Children Brush Their Teeth
- Make It a Game: Transform toothbrushing into a playful activity by turning it into a game. Use your imagination to create scenarios such as pretending to be a toothbrushing superhero or a silly dentist. Encourage your child to make animal sounds while brushing different parts of their mouth or play their favorite music during the process. These engaging activities help distract them from any discomfort and make the experience enjoyable.
- Lead by Example: Children often mimic their parent's behaviors. Allow your toddler to observe you brushing your teeth regularly, demonstrating the importance of oral hygiene. Make it a joint activity by brushing your teeth together, taking turns, or even letting them "help" brush your teeth. This creates a bonding experience and reinforces the habit in a positive manner. You can even play a tooth-brushing themed "Follow the leader" and let the copy your moves.
- Choose Kid-Friendly Toothbrushes and Toothpaste: Invest in toothbrushes designed specifically for toddlers, featuring vibrant colors, appealing characters, or favorite cartoon themes. Additionally, select a toothpaste with a pleasant taste, specifically formulated for young children. The enticing toothbrush and toothpaste options can make brushing time more exciting for your little one.
- Establish a Routine: Creating a consistent routine around toothbrushing helps children develop a sense of structure and expectation. Set aside specific times each day for brushing, such as after breakfast and before bedtime. Ensure that the routine remains consistent, even when traveling or during busy days. This familiarity will make toothbrushing feel like a natural and non-negotiable part of their daily life.
- Provide Choices and Autonomy: To foster a sense of control, offer your child choices within toothbrushing routines. Let them select their toothbrush or toothpaste flavor from pre-approved options. Additionally, allow them to choose whether they brush their top or bottom teeth first, before or after their bath, or in your bathroom or their bathroom. By empowering them to make decisions, you turn brushing into a task they feel they have some say in.
- Keep it short: Even adults find being poked and prodded in their mouths to be an overwhelming experience. While the ideal brush time may be two minutes, it is okay to build up to that over time. Gradually increase brushing time by incorporating enjoyable elements such as songs or timers. Singing while brushing or pretending to chase "green grimies" makes the process more engaging and establishes a time limit, ensuring your child knows when it will end. Visual times may be helpful for young children. Start small and gradually increase by 5-10 seconds each day.
- When you notice your toddler putting things in their mouth, swap it out for a toothbrush. This introduces the toothbrush in a neutral and no-pressure way and allows them to chew on and experiment with it.
- Bring a stuffed animal or doll and let them brush their toy's teeth before they brush their own.
- Swap turns - let them brush your teeth, then swap and you brush their teeth.
- Play a silly song or a Daniel Tiger Short while they brush their teeth.
- Make silly noises as if the germs are scared and running away from the toothbrush.
Helping toddlers develop good oral hygiene habits can be a challenging but essential task. By understanding why they may resist brushing their teeth and implementing playful and practical strategies, you can transform toothbrushing from a chore into an enjoyable routine. Remember, patience, consistency, and creativity are key in guiding your little one toward a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Share your tips and tricks in the comments!
As I write this my boys are staying up a little late to read. Elijah (7.5) is reading a LEGO Ideas book and Ezra (9) is Charley and the Chocolate Factory. There's a soft glow peeking under their doorway, and as I reflect on this day I can't help but think of what bedtime looked like a few years ago, anyhow desperately I longed for them to go to sleep so I could...just breathe.
I'm filled with gratitude for the years of hard work David and I put into learning to parent with gentleness, grace, and peace. The toddler and early preschool years were especially difficult for me (hello postpartum anxiety), and there were plenty of times I said "I can't do this anymore!"
But here we are years later, and our entire family has affectionately started referring to this summer as "The Summer of Peace." Our home is filled with peace, even as we navigate big changes for our family and while David and I finish the manuscript for our book. These are the days I longed for, hoped for, and prayed for when our boys were young. And as I reflect on those early years, there are a few things I wish I'd known.
What I Wish I'd Known When I was Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers
- I wish I had known that the fruit of my labor would show up sooner than I thought, and in the most unexpected ways. I saw little glimmers of it every now and then, like when our then three-year-old told his two- year-old brother, "You're in my space, please play somewhere else." and the two-year-old replied, "Oh okay!" and moved to the other side of the train table. But many times it felt like my efforts were in vain because I didn't see that much fruit as soon as I wanted. Looking back, the peace, honor, emotional intelligence, assertiveness, and teamwork that we cultivated actually did reap a bountiful harvest! But not always, and not perfectly. And I wish I hadn't expected it to be always or perfect.
- I wish I had known that I would never regret choosing to parent with gentleness and peace. When my children were younger I had a lot of fear of messing them up. We started out spanking and parenting pretty traditionally, and were very quickly convicted that treating children as less worthy of honor, respect, and protection than adults was not aligned with the way of Jesus. But even with strong convictions, I still feared it wouldn't "work". I wish I had known then that I would never regret treating my young children with honor and dignity. Watching them grow in honor and respect, not out of fear but out of love for others, has been a beautiful journey.
- I wish I had known that laying a foundation of trust creates a safeharbor for complex conversations. As our children get older, conversations become more challenging. Because we worked so hard to become safe for our children no matter what, they know that tricky and complex conversations are inherently safe to have with us. It doesn't necessarily make those talks easier or less uncomfortable, but it does create safety and vulnerability. Trust really is the key that unlocks healthy, flourishing relationships.
- I wish I had known that I would enjoy collaborating with my kids. There is so much pressure on parents to control their child's behavior, and when they were small I felt that pressure heavily. Looking back, I wish I had known how truly delightful it is to problem-solve and collaborate with kids. They're naturally creative and curious, and they come up with some of the most out-of- the-box solutions to problems. Letting go of my desire to control them and their actions freed me to enjoy them for who they are, and it allowed me to genuinely appreciate their problem-solving skills.
- I wish I had known that connection is correction. We've heard it many times from many places: connect before you correct. And there's wisdom in that for sure. But it took me a long to recognize that connection is a form of correction because it models for our children what we expect from them. It models conflict resolution, reconciliation, emotional regulation, and kindness in the face of adversity. Is it the only form of correction? No. But it is probably one of the most under-appreciated ways of correcting a child's behavior, and I wish I had realized its power long before I did.
If I had to do it over again, here's why |would:
In general I don't like using my children as examples of why Peacemaker Parenting "works" They are not my report card, they're not my trophies to show off. They are their own people, and ultimately they do and will get to make their own choices. So I hesitate to share their stories too publicly. Yes, we enjoy a beautiful, trust-based relationship. Yes, they are generally well-behaved kids. Yes, they know how to bring peace to their own conflicts and rarely need us to coach them through fights or disagreements. But none of that is why I'd choose Peacemaker Parenting again. Rather - it is because parenting with peace and gentleness forced me to confront my own emotional immaturity and surrender it to Jesus. It tested how deeply I trusted Jesus to be my source of peace, my identity, and my strength, and it helped me realize just how truly gracious He is to me.
If you're in the thick of it with toddlers, I want to invite you to join our next workshop: Peacemaker Parenting Toddlers. It's specifically geared at providing a model of Jesus-Centered parenting for parents of 15-36 month old children, but the truths and tools will be applicable for preschoolers and early childhood as well.
To the cycle-breaking toddler mom,
These days are tough– you are learning to navigate a whole new set of obstacles. Your child who was mostly eating, sleeping, and pooping for a while is moving into their own personality in a whole new way. You are excited and terrified at the same time. If you're like me, you find yourself in two groups of people – the first group is made up of parents who lament the dreadful toddler moods and wild-and-free ways, and the second group is parents who seem to have their toddlers sitting quietly through a church service with no fuss or discussion. And here you are just trying to maintain your dignity and confidence in front of these people while accidentally wearing the shirt with spaghetti stains and wondering if maybe you’re wrong for making the decisions you’ve made for your family about being a peacemaker parent instead of a punishing one.
I’m here to remind you– you are doing the right thing.
Sure, the toddler days are accompanied by some rough and tumble days. It comes with the turf.
These little people follow you like a shadow.
They nearly fall asleep sitting up but will suddenly muster all of the energy in the universe to fight bedtime with much gusto.
They cry when their lunch is cut into the wrong shape, when the green cup is dirty, and when you mispronounce the word they made up.
They know exactly what they’re asking for when they say “ahh bubfhryskaya” but you wonder if a high-ranking military interpreter might be able to spare a few minutes to translate for you.
Sometimes it feels like no one sees the countless hours you invest in caring for their physical, emotional, and yes, even spiritual needs. Many days your hard work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. And while it feels like no one sees - your precious little ones are watching you ever so closely. Because they adore you. Because they trust you. Because you are their safe place when everything in their little world feels too big - your love feels bigger.
This is the real reason they act spectacularly "difficult" just for you - you are their safe place.
You are the mom who is growing and learning all about them. You see their physical and emotional needs and you show up in ways no one else does to meet them.
You are the mom who refuses to punish them for lack of development. You refuse to use fear or shame to manage their behavior, and that means they're also not learning how to repress deep emotions - those emotions are being felt, as God intended them to be, sometimes without reservation or inhibition.
You take seriously your responsibility to show the heart and character of Jesus to your child. You know that spiritual and character formation begins not with managing behavior, but with introducing your tiniest disciples to Jesus, and you imitate Him as you disciple your children.
You are the mom who is doing your best and even though it might not seem like it, your child knows it and they love you for it. Your best on Thursday night might look different than your best on Saturday morning, and that's okay. Because even when you mess up and struggle, you're teaching your children how to do that well.
Cycle-breaking mama, you are empowering your little ones in ways you won't even know for years to come. You are loving them. You are modeling the heart of God to your children in a tangible way.
If you were raised in a circle of people who don’t align with treating toddlers as whole persons deserving of honor and respect, let me tell you right now–just because a whole bunch of generations taught one thing, doesn’t make it true. This feeling of “What are people thinking of me as a mother” can be a really strong emotion to conquer. I feel you on that, I've been there–so many times, actually. They’re tough feelings to sit with, but take the time to work through them. It will be worth it.
If you haven’t heard it lately – frequent meltdowns, unpredictable outbursts, yelling, saying no, and not following instructions are all normal for a child who isn’t afraid of punishment. It is part of their learning process. These things are not cause for shame or “What is wrong with me” conversations in your head. They are doors for you to walk through and teach your child through love. They're opportunities to celebrate the way God designed your child. And yeah, they're a chance for you to grow too.
I know it’s hard. The ups and downs of toddler emotions can make a mama want to lock herself in the bathroom with a pair of headphones a handful of peanut M&Ms and never come out. Ask me how I know.
Hear me when I say you’re going to get through this.
You probably won’t “nail it” every day–no one does!
But every day you learn a little more and you practice a little more, and you make a little more progress. Soon enough, the cycle of fear, shame, or abuse is broken. And guess what? It started with you.
So reheat your coffee however many times is necessary today. Take a breath. Say a prayer. And remind yourself that you were made for this.
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Parenting is an incredible journey filled with ups and downs, and one of the challenges many parents face is understanding the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown. While these terms are often used interchangeably, it is crucial to recognize that tantrums and meltdowns arise from distinct emotional processes within the brain. In this blog post, we will explore the brain science behind these two phenomena, shedding light on their differences and providing insights to help parents respond effectively.
Tantrums are commonly observed in young children and are often triggered by frustration, fatigue, hunger, or a desire for autonomy. From a neurological perspective, tantrums involve the brain's prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for reasoning, impulse control, and emotional regulation. During a tantrum, this part of the brain becomes overwhelmed, impairing the child's ability to manage their emotions effectively. As a result, children may exhibit behaviors such as screaming, crying, hitting, or kicking as a way to express their distress.
Meltdowns, on the other hand, occur in individuals across various ages, including children and adults, and are commonly associated with conditions like autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing difficulties. Unlike tantrums, which are typically triggered by external factors, meltdowns are often a response to sensory overload or emotional overwhelm. During a meltdown, the brain's amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions, becomes overstimulated, leading to a fight-or-flight response. This heightened state of arousal can manifest in intense emotional and behavioral outbursts, including crying, screaming, hitting, kicking, or withdrawal.
Differentiating Tantrums from Meltdowns:
- Triggers: Tantrums are usually triggered by unmet goals, specific events or frustrations, such as not getting a desired toy or being told "no." Meltdowns, on the other hand, are often triggered by unmet sensory or physical needs, sensory overload, emotional overload, or a combination of both.
- Emotional Control: During a tantrum, children may still have some level of emotional control, even if it is limited. They may pause their outburst when distracted or when their needs are met. In contrast, individuals experiencing a meltdown struggle to regain emotional control, as the heightened state of arousal overwhelms their ability to self-regulate.
- Duration: Tantrums are generally shorter in duration and can subside relatively quickly once the child's needs are met or when the frustration is resolved. Meltdowns tend to last longer and may take a significant amount of time for the individual to recover from the emotional and sensory overload.
Supporting Children during Tantrums and Meltdowns:
- Emotional Regulation: For tantrums, it is crucial to provide a calm and supportive environment, offering comfort and understanding to help children regulate their emotions. Even when holding boundaries, giving empathy and being a calm presence can help your child learn to process disappointment and frustration. Depending on what initiated the tantrum, redirecting their attention, offering choices, or engaging in soothing activities can be effective strategies.
- Sensory Support: During meltdowns, creating a sensory-friendly environment can help reduce the overwhelming stimuli. Providing a quiet space, offering comfort items like weighted blankets or headphones, and using calming sensory tools can assist in managing sensory overload. Other children may need sensory-friendly environments that allow them space to move their bodies. A Throw basket, mini trampoline, or heavy work ideas can help support their big body needs.
- Empathy and Connection: Regardless of whether it's a tantrum or a meltdown, offering empathy, and connection is essential. Validating the child's emotions, actively listening, and providing reassurance can help them feel understood and supported.
Understanding the distinction between tantrums and meltdowns empowers parents to respond with empathy and effectiveness. By recognizing the brain science behind these emotional outbursts, parents can adapt their approach and provide the necessary support to help their children regulate their emotions and navigate challenging situations.
Want to learn more about parenting toddlers with peace and purpose? Our upcoming workshop, Peacemaker Parenting: Toddlers is for you. You can sign up to be notified when registration opens here.
Summer is an exciting time–the idea of having the kids home more feels really sweet and sentimental…but then there is the real-life part of that is how they interact with each other.
In a home where peace is a core family value, it is really important to cultivate those peace-loving relationships beyond just parent and child. The goal is for those peace-making to extend into every relationship within the family.
How do we cultivate that + what does that look like?
I have found that one of the ways I love to promote peace in our home is by seeking out collaboration over competition wherever possible.
I’m not saying that competition is a bad thing, but for a peaceful sibling relationship, collaboration abilities are pretty key. The two ways that work best to promote this collaboration specifically among my children and their relationships with one another are through collaborative games and collaborative tasks.
Collaboration is more than just “My kids aren’t at each other's throats today so that’s good!”
It is a vital tool that is necessary for children to have in order to ensure peaceful relationships.
I LOVE collaborative games because they're fun, calm, and have a clear direction my kids can pursue together. There is less fuss at the beginning and end because there isn’t a concern about winning or losing. The attitude is generally happy and the instructions/expectations are clear for each player because it is still within the rule set of a game.
Peaceable Kingdom makes some excellent Collaborative games (especially for toddlers + preschoolers) that we love and play regularly in our home. Here are a few…
- Monkey Around: My kids have a bawl playing this! I love the use of pictures on the cards because the game is geared toward kids as early as age 2 but the familiar pictures allow toddlers + preschoolers who can’t read yet to be able to play *mostly* independently without an adult. It has been the source of a lot of good bonding time for my 2! Check out Monkey Around here.
- Acorn Soup: This became a very fast favorite when my kids were 2 + 3 years old! There is so much room for creativity and even though there is a designated goal (to make a soup according to the recipe on the card) my kids really like to role-play that one of them needs a meal and the other is happy to serve it. Check out Acorn Soup here.
- Best Dressed Banana: If you have kids who love to be goofballs–this is a game they just might love! Humor is a great tool for kids who need a little help in their relationship. There is nothing intense about this game–rather it is silly and encourages compliments + creative thinking. A win-win! Check out Best Dressed Banana here.
- Hoot Owl Hoot and Dino Escape: For kiddos who like a challenge, but who struggle with losing, Hoot Owl Hoot and Dino Escape are two games that have a strong challenge and goal in mind, but that promote collaboration and teamwork. Both of these games have just enough chance involved to make it fun, but they do require paying attention and promote critical thinking too. Check out Hoot Owl Hoot here. Check out Dino Escape here.
We love these two so much we frequently give them as gifts!
Collaborative TASKS are another tool that encourages sibling unity.
This may really depend on paying some attention to the personalities of your kids as you seek to find these opportunities, but for us, some examples are:
- Floor puzzles: Melissa + Doug make good quality floor puzzles that my preschool-aged kids can do together! I’ve found that the smaller puzzles are tougher for little kids to work on together because there is less “me space” for each kid and both of my kids like to have their own workspace. Larger floor puzzles allow them to work together but also have some space.
- Chore time: Chores, or family contributions, are a regular thing in our house, but rather than me delegating every single thing, I’ll often list the things we need to accomplish and let the kids figure out how they can work together on something while I work on something myself. This isn’t always the biggest hit, but it is something we are intentionally working on and is teaching valuable skills of teamwork even on the harder stuff and also enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done together.
- Group art: We really enjoy art in our family–watercolor and dot marker art are two favorites in our home right now! Initially, for our scheduled art time I would set the kids up independently with their own art supplies, but recently I started using large classroom post it paper and having the kids work together on art projects. The dot markers are especially great for this sort of thing. It is a similar concept to the small puzzle vs floor puzzle thing. Sharing a small piece of paper would be a nightmare, but having more space to work together is really great a lot of the time. Sometimes I’ll draw a few tree trunks and branches all over the paper and encourage them to fill it in with leaves and different fruit to create their own orchard. That’s a favorite right now!
Do you have something that you’re intentionally using to cultivate unity between your littles right now? We’d love to hear it! Add to the conversation in the comments or post to social media and tag us so we can feature your tips. And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out our workshop specifically aimed toward siblings. We know you’ll love it!