Why is it so hard to get toddlers to brush their teeth? You would think they would enjoy it! There is water involved after all. But, teeth brushing is one of the most frustrating times of the day. What is supposed to be a quick and easy task can drag on and on and turn into a fierce battle of wills between mother and child.
Recently, I was begging my 2-year-old daughter for the fifth time to unlock her jaw and let-go of the toothbrush in her mouth, when I had an epiphany. I realized I was going about this all the wrong way. I needed to turn the teeth-brushing process into a game, and I should enlist the help of Miss L’s favorite Disney Princess – Ariel.
Ariel = Mama’s special helper
As the mom of a redhead, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is adored in our house. My daughter requests to watch the movie at least once a week. At nap time, Miss L also loves to read books about the brave red-haired Ariel. We have Little Mermaid dolls, stickers, cups, Play-doh, bracelets, and a jewelry box floating around our house. We even met her in person at Disneyland. Miss L was ecstatic.
So, I thought, why not bring Ariel into the bathroom with us to help with brushing teeth. Ariel loves water, after all, so it is a perfect fit. I came up with 5 ways to involve Ariel, and she helped unlock my daughter’s jaw and bring peace.
9 Tips to Encourage Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth
Here are 9 ways to encourage toddlers to brush their teeth using Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid and several other proven best practices.
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Buy an Ariel toothbrush
Tip #1 – Buy a toothbrush that excites your child (one that your child would play with outside of the bathroom if given the chance)
As a 2-year-old, my daughter qualifies for only a certain number of toothbrushes at the store. If you look closely at the packaging on a kid’s toothbrush, it will show an age range of 0-24 months, 2-4 years, and 5-7 years. This is based on the size and softness of the brush head and if it has a tongue cleaner or not.
In the 2-4 year category, there is only a handful of characters to choose from. I usually can only find Winnie-the-Pooh, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, or My Little Pony for my daughter’s age. All of the Disney Princesses are saved for older girls, usually for ages 5-7. The characters on toothbrushes for younger kids just don’t excite my daughter the way a Disney Princess does.
I used to be strict about buying the right toothbrush for my daughter’s age, but in order to involve Ariel, I stopped worrying about it and bought a larger brush. Oral-B has toothbrushes with Ariel that were perfect for my daughter. Even the pink and purple sparkly colors were more her style.
When I first showed the Ariel toothbrushes to my daughter, her eyes lit up. She wanted me to open the package right away so she could play with them. Even though, these brushes were larger, I figured it was an okay trade-off if I could get my daughter more excited about brushing her teeth. And it worked!
Now Sing! (like Ariel)
Tip #2 – Encourage your child to open their mouth wide by singing his or her favorite song.
In The Little Mermaid movie, my daughter loves the scene where Ursula, the evil sea witch, commands Ariel to sing so she can steal her voice. Ariel trustingly opens her mouth and sings “aah, aah, aah.” You then see Ariel’s voice flow from her to a large shell that Ursula is holding.
I decided to re-create this scene in our bathroom to encourage my daughter to brush her teeth. I play Ursula and my daughter is Ariel. While I’m holding the toothbrush, I tell my daughter “Now Sing!” Miss L then tries to sing like Ariel and opens her mouth super wide. This lets me brush her teeth for a few seconds as I pretend to steal her voice.
If she starts to close her mouth, I tell her to “Keep singing” just like in the movie, and I can get a few more brushes in.
This trick doesn’t work everyday, but it works enough that I use it a couple times a week. I love how it encourages my daughter to open her mouth wide. Sometimes she is so distracted by trying to get the song right that she forgets what I am doing.
Brush Ariel’s teeth too
Tip #3 – Have your toddler practice the art of brushing back-and-forth on a favorite doll or toy (or if you are brave, you can use your own mouth!)
Sometimes I wish I could drive to Disneyland and invite Princess Ariel to come home with us for a night. I know if my daughter could watch Ariel brushing her teeth she would want to do it too. It would be so magical that she probably would want to do nothing else but brush her teeth for a week straight!
Since this is not going to happen anytime soon, I do the next best thing. I bring my daughter’s favorite Ariel doll into the bathroom and pretend to brush her teeth. Luckily, my daughter’s favorite Ariel doll is actually a bath toy that can get wet. The doll usually ends up covered in water and toothpaste.
My daughter practices brushing back-and-forth by running her toothbrush across Ariel’s little face. I then have my daughter try to do the same thing in her own mouth. My daughter still has a long ways to go before she is brushing effectively, but practice makes perfect, right?
Turn on the Disney Magic Timer
Tip #4 – Use an app like Disney’s Magic Timer to keep your child entertained and to make sure he or she brushes teeth for the recommended 2 minutes per session.
Recently, I realized that the Oral-B Ariel toothbrushes that we use partner with the Disney Magic Timer App. This free app can be downloaded from the Apple Store or on Google Play. Here is the cool part – you scan your specific toothbrush with the App and the timer unlocks an image that matches your child’s toothbrush.
As Miss L is brushing her teeth, the App shows a magic brush cleaning the screen on the mobile device. When the child has brushed for 2 minutes, the screen is clear and a character appears. Since Miss L has an Ariel toothbrush, she gets to watch Ariel appear before her eyes. Talk about genius, wish I had something like this when I was a kid!
We are still working our way up to a full two minutes of brushing, but this App is helping us get there. It gives us something to grow with and to strive for. Plus, you get an electronic sticker at the end too!
Celebrate with a song (from Ariel)
Tip #5 – Figure out what motivates your toddler and build it into your reward system for successfully brushing teeth.
For some kids, this might be stickers on a chart for others it might be getting an extra bedtime story. For my daughter, it is earning a song, usually from a Disney Princess.
I have a kid who loves music. She is always begging for more time to sing and dance before bedtime. So, I use this to my full advantage. I tell Miss L if she lets me brush her teeth for a set time (usually one full minute), then she can have an extra song before bed.
When it works, Miss L lets me get some good brushing done. I then reward her by asking the white Amazon Echo dot in my daughter’s room to play “Part of your World” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It is a win-win for both of us.
4 Additional Tips for encouraging toddlers to brush their teeth
Sometimes, it is hard to understand what is going on in the mind of a toddler. A trick that works one day may not work the next. Here are a few extra tips for brushing teeth that I have picked up along the way:
Tip #6 – Count to 20 while brushing your toddler’s teeth.
My husband is not really into pretending to be Ursula so he came up with his own method for brushing Miss L’s teeth. He slowly counts up to 20 as he is moving the brush back-and-forth across my daughter’s teeth. She stands perfectly still for him and listens to him count. This works great for my husband, but falls flat for me. Oh well! At least, Miss L is practicing her counting a couple of nights a week.
(As a side note, in order to get my daughter to a point where she is brushing for 2 full minutes, my husband is slowing increasing how long he counts. He is currently on 25 soon to be 30.)
Tip #7 – Make up a silly brushing song.
Counting may not work for me, but singing a silly song sure does. I make up silly brushing songs based off of nursery rhymes. Here is one of my favorites:
Instead of singing: row, row, row your boat / gently down the stream / merrily, merrily, merrily / life is but a dream
I sing: brush, brush, brush your teeth /gently back-and-forth /merrily, merrily, merrily / now your teeth are all clean
Tip #8 – Buy lots and lots of different toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes. Let your toddler pick them out too.
Right now, in my daughter’s bathroom, there are 10 different toothbrushes and 3 different toothpaste tubes for my daughter to choose from. Most nights, it is all about Ariel, but when she wants something different, she has lots of options.
When my daughter was first learning how to brush her teeth, she used to line up all the toothbrushes in a row in front of the sink and practice getting them wet. It is easy game if you need to quickly engage your toddler. Miss L doesn’t do this as much anymore, but I expect this to make a come-back when she is learning how to add her own toothpaste to a brush.
Tip #9 – Buy a toddler step stool.
Make sure your tot can see in the mirror while he or she is brushing teeth. It really helps a toddler be more independent and learn the right habits. We really like this simple stool, it has Frozen characters on the side. Like I said, we are all about the Disney Princesses around here. It probably would have been Ariel if we could have found one at the time.
How often do you brush your child’s teeth? Here is what I do.
Children make teeth brushing a priority if they see their parents make it a priority. Brush your teeth with your child present and he or she will see want to mimic you. Make teeth brushing part of the daily routine like snacks and nap time, and it soon will become habit.
I encourage Miss L to brush her teeth 3 times a day. While I’m combing Miss L’s red hair in the morning before breakfast, I hand her a toothbrush. I don’t say anything during this time. I just let her do her own thing. She usually just sucks the water off the brush, but sometimes she does more.
Later in the day, I get more involved. I brush Miss L’s teeth for at least a minute before afternoon nap and again before bedtime. I let Miss L do her own thing first but the session always ends with “Mommy’s turn.”
Lately, as I am driving around my city, I have started seeing lots of signs that say “Make sure your kids brush for 2 minutes, twice per day.” It is on billboards, park benches, and even bus stop sings. I checked out the website 2min2x.org and it has several fun tools to entice kids to brush their teeth, including videos and a free weekly checklist.
In the end, we are not at 2 minutes yet, but I feel good that we are getting closer each day. I believe some brushing is better than none at all.
Now, how to teach my toddler to spit?!
Well, this is what has worked for me, so far. I still have some work to do. For example, I need to teach my daughter how to spit. Not sure exactly how I am going to do that just yet, but I’m sure I will figure it out eventually. Any recommendations?
To summarize, as a mom, since you spend a lot of time and energy each week in the bathroom trying to get your children to brush their teeth, why not stop and make a plan specific to your child! I recommend trying the above tips, especially using Disney’s The Little Mermaid or another movie/character that generates excitement. It’ll make teeth brushing a lot easier and a lot more fun.
Let me know what works for you.
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Have other ideas to share? Please join me on social media to continue the conversation or leave a comment below. I look forward to connecting with you and hearing more about how you encourage toddlers to brush their teeth. What worked for you?
Please Note: Some of the links in the above post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. All the products mentioned in this post are items that I use on a regular basis because I really love them. All of the opinions stated about these products are 100% my own. See my Disclosure page for more details.