The Importance of WHY for Tooth-brushing and Parenting
Does anyone else find it challenging to get their children to brush their teeth – along with a lot of other simple and necessary tasks?
A few mornings ago our six-year-old was in full resistance mode about brushing her teeth. She just could not understand why it was necessary to brush when it would all be undone by eating in a few hours. She plead her case to her mom. She stated it again. It just didn’t make any sense to her. “What’s the point?”, she complained.
Her patient mom had decided enough was enough, and forcefully commanded that she go brush her teeth or else. And so our reluctant six-year-old moped toward the bathroom, like a teenager with shoulders slouched forward, to do the senseless act – the act of brushing her teeth.
On her way from one end of the house to the other, I stopped her and asked her to talk to me. I asked why she did not want to obey her mom. She put forth her best argument, and I listened. Then I asked her: “Don’t you think we have good reasons for asking you to brush your teeth?” She wasn’t sure we did.
I explained to her that she had been sleeping all night and that there were things in her mouth, that if not brushed out, would create little holes in her teeth. Those little holes would need to be drilled out, and to drill them out, she would need to have a shot to numb her mouth. And all of this would cost us money that would be better used for other, more enjoyable things. I concluded our conversation by showing her the fillings in my teeth and asked: “You don’t want fillings like daddy, do you? Do you see we are trying to help you by asking you to brush your teeth?”
Having appeared to be persuaded by my reasons, she went to the bathroom with shoulders up and brushed her teeth.
So what’s the point of sharing this little experience?
Well, I am not saying we have to formulate careful and coherent arguments for every act of obedience we command, but one of the things I am learning about parenting is that most of the time children respond well when we give them reasons for our expectations. When we take the time to do this, it also teaches them how to think and communicate. We are helping them develop and grow as a person, and we are helping them see that we know and want what is best for them. We are earning their trust.
Sometimes its necessary to demand obedience because “I told you so and I am the parent.” But perhaps taking an extra five minutes to explain the “why” would be beneficial to child and parent.