I Bribe My Kid to Brush Her Teeth & You Should Too

Big Kid 36

toothbrushesThere comes a time in every mom's life when she has to decide. To bribe my kids or not to bribe my kids? Is there ever a time when something is so important that it's worth the risk? 

Yes, I know, there is a contingent of moms who, reading this, just sucked in their breath and started shaking their heads. You've never, ever, ever thought of doing this. But maybe you should have. See, I'm not crazy about bribes. But there comes a time when the risks of not trying a new method is worse in the long run. So I bribe my kid to brush her teeth.

I know. I know. We've always been big on "dental hygiene." She's never had a cavity (knock wood), and we do annual visits to the dentist. But now that she's in kindergarten, the carefree "yes, Mommy, I'll go brush my teeth" child has disappeared, replaced by the "I know everything kindergartner who will do it in her own sweet time, thank you very much."

In most respects, I've responded to this new attitude much as I did her toddler temper tantrums. If I ignored them, she realized she wasn't getting the rise out of me she wanted, and she shaped up. It's worked with packing her backpack, etc. -- when she realizes I won't cave in and do it for her, she does it. Kids are fine with negative attention, but they hate NO attention. But I can't wait out the teeth brushing. She simply won't do it, stinky breath be damned.

And two weeks ago her dentist appointment revealed her first two wiggling teeth. Pretty soon we'll have a tooth fairy visit, and after that two permanent teeth, two teeth that need to be cared for for life. The timing couldn't be better. It's National Children's Dental Health Month, and I've been inundated with scary literature warning me stuff like:

  • Most parents and caregivers are unaware their best intentions may be fostering tooth decay in children.
  • In the United States, tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease. It affects one in four elementary school children and two out of three adolescents.
  • Nationally, children lose 51 million school hours each year because of dental problems.

I have to say this is an awareness campaign that is working. There are certain things you don't screw around with. Playing in traffic. Drinking bleach. Not brushing your teeth!

And to say we'd tried everything else to get her to do it is an understatement. Ordering. Punishing. Pleading. Doing it ourselves. And then my dentist gave me the idea. He bribed her with a new toothbrush that lights up and includes a little pizza man floating on the inside. She couldn't wait to run home and use it. When I got a package of freebies from the same company (Dr. Fresh Firefly) in the mail two days later, she flipped her lid and couldn't wait to brush. Cool toothbrushes, my dentist says, help. They make it fun. And he's got a point.

They inject a little silliness into the process once she's in the bathroom, which relieves my burden a little. But getting her in there, with brush in hands, is my bigger battle. So now she gets a little mini marshmallow in a jar every time she cooperates and brushes her teeth, with the promise of a reward when the jar is full (Note: she doesn't get to eat the marshamallows). I'm worried enough about her health that I've decided it's a stronger parent who compromises to keep her kid safe.

Do you think there are certain things so important you have to set aside your "parenting plans" for? Is there anything you'd bribe your kid to do?


Image via Anderson Mancini/Flickr

discipline, kid health


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jmtmn jmtmn

I don't think it's a big deal. As soon as she starts to notice boys she will be obsessed with personal grooming so I don't think you're going to be the mom in the dorm room bribing her to brush her teeth with beer. ha!

poshkat poshkat

whats with all the "its ok to bribe your kids"? , yes bribing can work but the promises and whatever you are bribing them with will need to get bigger and bigger as they grow. *stepping off my soap box*, why not make it a fun thing? we call brushing our teeth habre, DS learned that word on Dora and decided thats what he will call brushing his teeth since it means open. there are also musical tooth brushes out there, and fun looking toothpastes and other fun things to help children learn its important to brush your teeth but its also fun.

PonyC... PonyChaser

I find it ironic that you're rewarding her for brushing her teeth by giving her a marshmallow... which is all sugar.  I don't blame you... I have a similar reward system for getting my son to do his chores (he earns DS time, or loses it, depending upon his behavior).  I just think that particular reward for this particular behavior is hilarious.


I think that a little bit of bribery (within reason) is fine.

jeann... jeannesager

@PonyChaser, I should note that the marshmallows go in the jar; she doesn't get to eat them :).

Grunt... Gruntlings

I don't bribe for basics. We brush our teeth. We brush when we wake up, we brush at bedtime. We brush if we eat anything very sugary. End of story. The choices are this: We can brush sitting, standing or laying down. If we don't brush we don't do storytime. Lights go out and bedtime commences immediately. If we don't brush we don't eat breakfast. If we don't brush after sweet stuff we don't eat sweet stuff anymore as special treats.

But then, I don't do bribes in general. When I'm asking something of my son that I know is unfair, I'll tell him that I'll get him something special as a "thank you". (ie: Woke up too late, have to hurry out the door in the rain and I need him to get his rain boots on quickly. I'll tell him that we can get a muffin at the coffee shop.)

Lora Beth Roy

I tell my kid that she has nasty bugs living on her teeth and if she doesn't want bug in her mouth then she needs to brush twice a day....It works!

Histo... HistoryMamaX3

Hmm... we just brush our teeth. I use a fear tactic more than anything... teeth that fall out because we didn't take care of them do not get rewarded by the tooth fairy. But, I have been brushing my kids' teeth since they were babies- they expect it to happen every day. No need to bribe them, it just happens.

chris... chris07ss

for the most part it's not a big deal.  We all brush are teeth together fist thing in the morning and again before bed.  She wants to mimic what I do and at the same time show off to her little sister (how she can do what mommy does) so all i have to do is do what I want her to do and for the most part she'll follow suit. 

Stephanie Kellerman

I bribed my DD with halloween candy for potty training and it worked great. When the Halloween candy was gone we went to candy corn and now they are gone we do stickers :) She still gets a couple m&m's for #2 in the potty because that is our #1 potty training problem.

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