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

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

Read More >