Sometimes good parenting comes down to patience. Something that seems hopeless and unachievable for weeks, even months on end, can, all of a sudden be realised.
This was our experience with Hannah and the toothbrush. From the moment the first little peg popped through her pink gums, we knew we would have to take good care of it and all the rest that followed. Oral hygiene is fundamental to overall health and developing good habits from an early age seems like a worthwhile investment in Hannah’s future.
But, it hasn’t been easy to get started. In fact, it’s been downright difficult.
In the beginning…
We introduced Hannah to the concept of a toothbrush by first using a damp cloth to wipe her tiny teeth. Emma began attempting to brush her teeth at night, after the feed and before sleep. To say that Hannah was reluctant is an understatement – she downright fought it. She was uncomfortable with the feeling of a cloth in her mouth and, as she was already tired from a long day, she didn’t have the patience to give it a go.
After a little while Hannah became more willing to allow the cloth into her mouth. Emma made up a tooth-brushing song, which Hannah appeared to like and she did a great job of making it part of the night routine. After a few weeks we began to introduce a teeth-brushing before the mid-day nap. Hannah was now familiar with the process and much more willing to participate. She was also less tired at that point in the day, so more willing to give something a go.
After a month or two, Hannah would happily open her mouth for the cloth. She did, however, sometimes decide to put her newfound chompers into action mid-brush, the result of which was tiny little teeth marks in parental fingers. One time recently, she even managed to draw blood from Emma.
All of this was good. It was progress towards our ultimate goal. But it wasn’t our ultimate goal. The regular use of a toothbrush was.
Introducing the toothbrush
Hannah was far more suspicious of the toothbrush. She eyed it sideways from the moment it appeared on the shelf during the bedtime rituals. Initial attempts to get it anywhere near her mouth resulted in tears, flailing limbs and a general sense of frustration for all involved.
This didn’t seem to get easier. In fact, it felt like it became worse. Hannah became anxious about the toothbrush well before it was brought anywhere near her face. She made it very clear that under no circumstances was it to go anywhere near her mouth. This happened for weeks. Long enough that Emma and I became a little concerned about how long-term it was going to be, and whether we would ever be able to convince Hannah of the necessity of the toothbrush.
During this time Emma was fantastic. She persisted each night with presenting Hannah with the toothbrush. She took her own toothbrush in each night and showed Hannah what she did with hers. Hannah watched with great interest, but still she was reluctant to allow the toothbrush near her mouth.
During the day I would give Hannah her toothbrush and ask her if she would like to give it a go. She was willing enough to hold it for a few minutes, and during that time she would look at it intently. I told her what is was and what it was for, as did Emma when she went through the same routine at night. Each time was the same, Hannah didn’t want it in her mouth, but she was happy enough around it. We still had to use the cloth each time to thoroughly clean her ever-growing collection of teeth.
Eventually Hannah came to the point where she was happy to put the toothbrush to her lips. However, she still instantly fought back whenever we tried to get it any further. The whole endeavour felt pointless and we really worried about whether she would ever accept the toothbrush.
Then, a couple of days ago, she opened her mouth and put it right it. She felt the texture of the brush with her tongue and teeth, and she decided it was okay after all. Since that point she has been happy to let us brush her teeth properly. If anything, she even appears to enjoy it… sometimes.
Every good story needs a moral…
I have found, time and time again, that things seem hopeless right up until the point that they are not. Patience and persistence are two of the most powerful tools that a parent has. The end goal may be months away, or it may just be a day away. It all feels the same until it happens. But in the end, the effort is always worth it.