a modern family blog

mama diaries {preschool parenting, brushing teeth & washing hands}

Preschool parenting is no joke! Their sole purpose in life seems to be testing limits. And so our job is basically just reinforcing those limits. Exhausting, isn’t it? We are just coming out of a very frustrating phase. You know how they go – when you’re in the middle of it you wonder if you’ll ever come out. And then there’s usually another phase following, so you really forget that you’re making tons of progress on a regular basis. But I’m here to tell you that you are! All of your work is worth it.

The latest set of frustration with our Felix has been getting him to brush teeth and wash hands. He not only doesn’t want to do it, but he pretends he does it and lies about it! I mean, the level of control he’s seeking is pretty impressive. Knowing that I’m not the first mom to tackle this, I’ve read up a bit on his current developmental stage (he just turned 5). Sure enough, this is all ‘normal’ – as frustrating as it can be. But I wanted to pass along some of my learning just in case you find yourself in a similar situation (and i really hope you never do. i like you more than that).

  1. Read up – my therapist recommended this series of developmental books by Louise Bates Ames (she works with children too). They are slightly dated at certain points, but not in anything more than cultural/time references. The developmental discussion is really helpful, and solutions offered are simple to implement. The books are also broken up into digestible chapters, that you can use as needed (ie, you don’t need to read cover to cover, but can go to sections when something specific pops up). Here are links to her books on ages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10-14
  2. Admitting they’re wrong is damn near impossible. The year 5 book has been giving some great insight into telling the truth (or lack of), and how hard it can be for that age. They don’t want to have done something wrong, so when asked if they brushed their teeth (when you know they didn’t), they say yes. Another approach is to not put them in the position to lie. Rephrase it to something that puts them a little less on the spot ‘Hey, let’s go brush your teeth.’ They might still say no, but at least they’re not getting in trouble for lying as well!
  3. Sometimes they just want you to do it for them at this age. As independent as they want to be – they also love that simple attention. I find each week or month (or day, let’s be real, this ish changes constantly) it’s a new approach that works. For a while Felix wanted us to do everything, and it just wasn’t worth the trouble to try and get him to do it on his own (I mean, I know he doesn’t do a great job, but sometimes you just need them to take care of something by themselves! ). Then he moved to having us put his toothpaste on, but he’d brush. He then went to a phase of asking us to not be in the bathroom at all when he was brushing – but this led to him not doing it at all…so we’ve had to push back on it a bit! I do think a lot of it falls under the focused attention they can receive while doing simple daily tasks like brushing teeth.
  4. Appropriate consequences. They have to make sense to your kid, and be associated with the crime. If you don’t brush your teeth then you definitely can’t have treats. I’ve gone as far as telling him he can’t eat. Because if he eats and doesn’t brush his teeth, well…cavities. I’d obviously never starve him, but he gets that food doesn’t get to chill in his teeth for days.
  5. For the hand washing situation, which is basically the same as teeth, just a different body part it takes a slightly different approach. The hand washing happens more frequently, which allows for more conflict throughout the day. If your kid doesn’t wash hands, yet tells you they did – you have to be on your game. You have to be there, every time. It’s an effing pain in the ass, but you have to be sure they don’t get to the point that they are given the space to lie. They only do it because they don’t want to be called out, and wrong. So, just be there, help them wash those hands after going to the bathroom. Sure, Felix resists this, but it’s way less of an explosion than me catching him after the fact and sending him back.
  6. Privacy & trust have to be earned. Felix can’t ask me to leave him while he brushes his teeth or washes his hands, because he has shown that he won’t do it if I’m not there. I tell him he’ll earn it back, but only after I see him doing things on his own, when I ask. Simple, but to a 4 or 5 year old it’s really tough. apparently.

At the end of the day, it’s a game of defense, and setting both of you up for success. Giving them just enough independence and responsibility to feel good about things, but not so much that it leads to conflict on a daily basis. They’re testing limits, and you’re reinforcing them. Creatively.



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