Are some days just a little harder than others for a variety of reasons? We’ve all been there. Sometimes, even as adults, we also need a little extra drive to get things done. Kids are no different! As parents, we can help our little ones succeed.
If you’re thinking like me, this is much easier said than done. As a first-time mom to a toddler, I have learned that internal motivation is KEY to getting my child excited to do something. Bribing can only go so far, and if you rely on this method of motivating your child, you may quickly run out of ideas. On the flip side, teaching your little one internal motivation means you are helping them to discover what it feels like to be inherently proud and satisfied for their achievements. This type of satisfaction lasts much longer and will continue to grow with them into adulthood.
But how do you teach internal motivation?
First of all, it is important to understand this will take a great deal of patience. It is so much easier (and faster) to tell your child they will receive an external reward for accomplishing a task than to explain the reasoning behind what you are asking them to do. But I promise it will pay off in the end.
You may be asking, how does this relate to oral health?
Telling your child to brush and floss without explaining the reasoning makes this routine task feel like a chore rather than a part of their life. Just like taking baths, brushing and flossing are equally important, and kids must be educated on why. Without good oral hygiene, how will they keep healthy teeth that allow them to eat, drink, develop good speech, and have a positive body image?
Let’s look at 5 ways you as parents can help create internal motivation that lead to good oral health practices.
1. Educate your little one(s) on the WHY behind brushing and flossing
Create conversations that explain the importance of brushing and flossing so your little one(s) understand the value of a healthy smile. Depending on their age, they may or may not fully understand what you are saying but believe me, they are listening. Use words or phrases that you know they will understand.
For example, if you have a toddler, you can simply explain that brushing and flossing gets rid of any sugar bugs that are on their teeth, and this helps their smile shine bright.
For older children who have reached a point where hygiene is not a priority, you may want to show them pictures of teeth with cavities and explain this can happen if good brushing and flossing is not occurring regularly. A picture can sometimes be worth a thousand words and open up their perspective.
2. Allow your little one(s) to watch you as parents practice healthy oral habits.
Kids love to mimic, especially when they are a toddler. As parents, you can set the tone of good oral hygiene by simply role-playing. Choose times during the morning and evening for your little one(s) to come and watch how you take care of your smile with brushing and flossing. Before you know it, they’ll want to join in on the fun!
3. Read books about brushing and flossing.
Look for books that talk about brushing and flossing, and try to find ones that have ways to engage with props or photos. Grin’s pop-up brushing book for kids is a staple in our house. This book has so many options for your child to feel connected by offering toothbrushes and flosser props to practice brushing the pop-up animal teeth. Every time we read this book, my son immediately wants to run to the sink to brush his own teeth!
4. Create a family fun brushing challenge.
Who doesn’t love a good challenge? Kids, believe it or not, innately love competition even at an early age. Kids like to prove to their parents they can do something. By creating a family fun brushing challenge, you are helping to internally motivate your child to feel proud of their oral hygiene achievements. Grin’s brushing challenge board comes with stickers and motivating quotes like “YOU DID IT” when the board is complete.
5.Make brushing, flossing, and healthy eating habits a lifestyle rather than a choice
Start early! By practicing the first 4 steps regularly, you are quick. ‘showing your child(ren) that good oral habits are a part of their life rather than an added task to their routine.
I am not saying this will be a quick and easy process and that your child’s excitement for good oral health will happen overnight. But with a bit of effort, a lot of patience, and a great deal of consistency, my hope is that good oral health practices will become less of a burden!
About the author
Kristen Cockrell, MS, RDH. Kristen is a Registered Dental Hygienist with a passion for preventive pediatric dentistry and oral health education. Kristen earned her master’s degree in dental hygiene education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.