Brushing Teeth, Nappy Changes & Avoiding Power Struggles

Brushing Teeth, Nappy Changes & Avoiding Power Struggles

I found a fantastic post by Dr. Therese O’Sullivan on Kate Russell’s RIE website the other day and thought it would be perfect to share with you all. 

RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) principles are very similar to those of Montessori – basically: respect, kindness, empathy and independence.  These can turn tricky situations into opportunities for your child to make choices and develop autonomy.

Dr O’Sullivan was having trouble getting her 2-year-old to brush his teeth until she remembered about giving choices and allowing her child to be the independent little person he wanted to be:

Having turned 2, my little man was now objecting to having his teeth brushed. In the midst of my husband hanging him upside down and tickling him so I could stick the brush in his mouth, it occurred to me that this was not respectful parenting. There was no partnership where we valued his input in these situations. We were doing things ‘to’ Mr 2 rather than ‘with’ him.

I started to brainstorm some alternatives. Mr 2 liked songs, so I decided to incorporate that into our routine. At teeth brushing time, we went to the bathroom, allowing extra time for us to slow the process right down. I closed the doors. I explained to him that brushing keeps his teeth healthy and that I wouldn’t let him leave until we’d done his teeth. However, it was up to him when he wanted to do it. To help entice him, I also mentioned that there was a special teeth brush song I’d sing while brushing his teeth.

I sat in the corner and prepared myself for the long haul. Of course, having been given the choice, he was not interested in teeth brushing.  He was much more interested in emptying the rubbish bin, redistributing the contents of the bathroom cabinet draws and hiding behind towels.  I stayed calm and didn’t rush him… I likened it to conducting an experiment.

Mr 2 would come over and want to hear the song, but not stand close enough for teeth brushing. I stayed where I was – I explained that the song was a special song just for teeth brushing. Each time he came over he’d stay longer. About 45 minutes later, he came up, opened his mouth and we had a proper teeth brush while I sang the toothbrush song.

The last bit was to add a bit of silliness and he enjoyed sticking out his tongue. Once I’d gone through the song twice, it was then his turn to brush his own teeth, which he quite liked.

Over the course of one and a half weeks, the time Mr 2 would take to come over for his teeth brush gradually improved, until eventually he came straight over. Brushing teeth was now an enjoyable part of the bedtime routine for everyone…

I used to get stressed out and upset when my toddler threw different ‘challenges’ at me. Now, I see opportunities to exercise the old grey matter by using RIE as a basis for problem solving (hmmm… how are we going to deal with this one??). As a result, it is easier to stay calm and come up with a win-win situation. Some solutions take longer to work than others, and sometimes the first idea won’t work. But remaining respectful and working with our child has been completely worth it in the end.

One of our regular Montessori Toddler Group mummies (and Facebook follower) has also seen great progress using the techniques described in the RIE post:

The link on Facebook re nappy changing and teeth cleaning was great. Tried the nappy conversation today and was convinced he wouldn’t understand. A few minutes after suggesting he find a place to change his nappy he went in his room, found his mat and brought it to me in the hall! Fab ideas, thanks. — Deborah R

Click here to read Dr O’Sullivan’s blog and discover how to use choices to avoid power struggles in your home too!

For support implementing these gentle parenting techniques in your home, click here to view my current parenting packages.

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