I admit we messed up as parents. Somehow we missed the memo that your child should have their teeth brushed the moment they begin to erupt. It wasn’t until later, when my daughter’s pediatrician asked how the tooth brushing was going, that we realized our mistake. Oops!e
When my daughter first started brushing her teeth it was a complete joy. We would hand her the baby toothbrush with toothpaste on it, and she would eagerly brush/gnaw away.
Our delightful toothbrushing experience lasted for months, and then, suddenly, it was gone. One day, I handed my daughter her toothbrush, and out of the blue, she threw it on the floor and ran away.
“Okay,…,” I thought, “maybe she doesn’t like her toothpaste.” (After all, we did just switch brands.)
So I went to the store and bought a different kind. The same thing happened. I went to the store again and bought the old brand, the kind we used when she loved brushing her teeth. The same thing happened again. So I went to the store a third time and bought a whole slew of different toothpastes. Each and every time I asked her t0 brush her teeth, the same thing happened, and she threw it onto the floor.
I even tasted all of them just to see if they were really disgusting or something. Some certainly tasted better than others, but a couple were downright delicious. We even made our own super yum toothpaste. So what was going on?
“Maybe it isn’t the toothpaste, maybe it is the toothbrush, ” I thought. “Maybe she is sick of her old toothbrush.” So I went out again, this time buying every baby toothbrush I could find. One by one, they each got thrown onto the floor in a fit of rage.
This once joyful part of our morning routine had now definitely become a time of dread. I tried everything I could think of. I begged. I pleaded. I chased her around with the toothbrush. I even tried to shove it (gently!) into her mouth when she opened her lips (although I felt awful doing it). Nothing worked. She wasn’t going to brush her teeth, and she wasn’t going to let me or my husband do it for her either. It felt like a lost cause. My daughter’s teeth were going to rot away.
So I sat down and thought. What was different? What was different between all of those months of happy toothbrushing and now? There was only one thing I could think of. So I decided to wait until the next morning and try it.
The next day, I implemented the change, and do you know what? It worked!!! For the first time, in what felt like ages, my daughter eagerly brushed her own teeth, and she has continued to brush her teeth every morning since then. I am talking, for months and months now. So, do you wanna know what it was that I changed?
Here it is…
MY own attitude
That’s right. I changed my attitude. When I thought about those first months of toothbrushing, I remembered that I always had always invited her to brush her teeth with a big smile on my face. And then, I would sit on the bathroom floor facing her and brush my own teeth while she brushed hers. Toothbrushing was one big, happy time. What had changed over the course of several months was my attitude. I wasn’t sitting with her on the floor anymore. I was either standing in front of the mirror brushing my teeth or handing her the toothbrush and expecting her to brush while I was busy doing something completely different. I wasn’t smiling or inviting her to have toothbrush time either. Rather, I was treating it like business as usual, just one more chore in a list of chores to do. Then, when she began rejecting toothpaste after toothpaste and toothbrush after toothbrush, I started approaching her with trepidation rather than confidence. “Here. Are you going to like this one???” And finally, when the situation began to feel really hopeless, and I began chasing her around the house, I definitely didn’t have my best attitude. I was frustrated and tired and grumpy. And sometimes, feeling completely hopeless.
So I decided I was going to sit on the floor again, smile, brush my own teeth right there with her, and have one great big ol’ toothbrushing party. And it totally worked! She loves having her daily teeth party with mom.
There is a post already on the blog by Psy.D. candidate, Danielle Hand, about attunement. It is definitely worth going back and reading, but at one point, Danielle says this,
“Attunement occurs through emotional mirroring between caregiver and baby. When the baby smiles, the caregiver smiles, and when the baby cries, the caregiver shows sadness on his or her face for the child. In similar fashion, if the caregiver gets in a heated conversation or feels upset, the baby knows, and also feels upset. Attunement happens in positive and negative emotional situations, and what follows is important. Conversations are important to work through negative emotional situations in order to help the child understand what caused the caregiver to feel anxious. If the child understands, he or she still feels safe.”
I was making toothbrushing a negative experience, and J was just mirroring me emotionally. She wasn’t the cause of the problem; I was! Something as mundane as toothbrushing ended up serving as a great reminder about attunement.
But shifting your attitude as a parent doesn’t just work with teeth brushing problems; it works with myriad other problems that come up as well. For example, my best friend’s daughter recently became afraid of crossing the street when she sensed her mom’s own fear. Melissa worked on her own attitude towards crossing the street, and now her daughter is no longer afraid. I stopped demonstrating my frustration when our overweight cat begged for food, and suddenly, my daughter stopped her practice of scolding the cat for seemingly no reason. Our kids mirror our emotions and sometimes changing a problem is as simple as demonstrating appropriate response.
And now I want to hear from you? How are your kids mirroring your emotions? How is toothbrushing going at your house?
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