Monday, September 17, 2007

Motivating Your Child to Brush Their Teeth

If I ask my children how many times they need to brush their teeth in a day, they will confidently answer "two times - morning and night." So clever hor. But in reality, they usually only brush once a day. They always forget to brush in the mornings, after they wake up.
Well, I also very tired of reminding them. So, what to do?

2 days back
Me: Who brushed their teeth this morning?
(No answer)
Me: Nobody brushed?
DD: We forgot.
Me: Ow, that's too bad. I wanted to give 10 cents to the person who had brushed their teeth. I guess nobody gets it then.
DD: Okay, I'm going to brush now.
Me: No, it doesn't work that way. From now on, I will give 10 cents to the person who answers "yes" when I ask "who brushed their teeth this morning?" BUT, you won't know when I will ask. I won't ask everyday. If you want the 10 cents, then just make sure you remember to brush everyday. So when I do ask, you can say "yes".

Yesterday Morning
Me: Did you guys remember to brush your teeth?
Children: Aiyah, no.

This Morning -- They woke up early and had already gone downstairs. Not long after I see them rushing back into the room and into the bathroom.
DS: Mommy, I'm going to brush my teeth.
DD: Me too.
(After brushing)
DS: Mommy, can you give me 10cents?
Me: But I haven't asked the question.

Later he asked me again if I was going to give him 10 cents. Again I said he must wait for my question. Eventually I asked the "golden" question and they both got their 10 cents. I didn't want to disappoint them. And the funny part was, he came to me a few minutes later and said "here Mommy, you can have back the 10 cents, so you can buy food." Hahahaha.

Mamas tips:
Some might not agree with monetary rewards to encourage certain behaviors in children. They say intrinsic rewards work better than extrinsic rewards. Meaning, it doesn't help when children do something just to get a reward. It would be better if they did it because of internal motivation e.g. brushing teeth so my teeth don't rot, so my breath is nice, or so my teeth are clean and white.

So why am I doing this?
  • Well, for one thing, telling them I'll give them a hug after every brush just doesn't seem to work anymore. I had to get their attention and offer something that would stick in their mind (for a while, anyway). I know they have been playing with their pile of coins lately, so I decided to go with that current interest.
  • They still don't really understand the value of money. So whether it is 10 cents or $100, it doesn't make a difference. The 10 cents is just a gift token. You could replace it with anything that is of value to them, e.g. a sticker, an ice cream etc....
  • How you play the game matters. There are different ways to apply positive reinforcement. You could give the reward every time your child brushes his teeth, or you could make your reward schedule unknown. I chose to do the latter. Meaning, my children won't know when they will be rewarded. According to my psychology lessons (that I learned way back in Uni), having an uncertain reward schedule works better. An example is why do people get addicted to gambling? Because they don't know when they might hit that "jackpot". It is the "I might win this time" that gets people hooked.
  • Of course this reward is only to get them started. I will eventually stop using it. The "proper" reasons for brushing teeth will continue to be taught. AND hugs and praise will continue to be given :)
p.s. And I thought my psychology degree was just a wall decoration :) I guess it does have some use afterall. Hahahah.


  1. you know how to motivate kids not only in brushing teeth but other things..Not many mummies like you can handle kids alone...

  2. Uh, good and bad. Next time, they will not brush if you don't pay. For me, I always make brushing teeth enjoyable for them.

  3. chanelwong:
    Thank you for your kind words.

    It's not that they don't want to brush teeth. They just have trouble remembering, especially in the morning. NO problem with night time brushing. So the reward is for remembering. So far it has helped my son. He has remembered for the last three days. My daughter still forgets. So I guess it's no guarantee. Children are motivated differently. Parents just have to find something that works. Experiment! Hahaha

  4. I think monetary rewards are a good way of motivating our children. It's only wrong if we don't use it in the right way.

  5. I'm totally fine with monetary rewards and I think it's a nice way of motivating our kids to brush their teeth.

  6. I'm so glad I read this post. I've been trying to think of a way to get the kids to make their beds. I have one who always does, and the rest hardly ever do. So I think that will change if I give them 10 cents every time they make their beds. Thanks for all the great ideas.

  7. I also do some motivations for my kids when it comes to convincing them to brush their teeth. What I usually do is that I tell them that their TV schedule will be extended if they do brush their teeth and if not I'll be forced to bring them to one of Mount Pleasant's dentist to have their cavities checked. Most of the time it works. And in any case, our dentist are really supportive of our family's dental health.


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