Brushing Teeth with Elmo

Taking care of teeth is serious stuff. Especially if you’re a toddler who loves her Sesame Street characters. At bedtime, Reece snuggles her cup of toothbrushes and toothpaste as if she were holding a Cabbage Patch doll. “Special,” she says. She fell in love with her toothpaste with Elmo on the bottle in the store. She sat in the cart, held the box tight, smiling, telling me in her toddler lingo how perfect it is.

She also has a new Bert and Ernie toothbrush, since her older Elmo toothbrush with its worn bristles is ready for a demotion. But Reece won’t hear of it. She wants to brush with Bert and Ernie and Elmo. And she insists she will ready each brush with the toothpaste.

“Self!” she declares, yanking the brush away from me when I intervene. I know I should just let her be, but this tired mom gets obsessed with clean up prevention. Toddlers are not cognitively or physically fit to distribute toothpaste to bristles. Applying the correct amount of toothpaste, a little dab in proportion to the number of bristles, is a skill. It requires an understanding of how full the tube is and how much finger force is needed to squeeze the paste out of the tube. And it requires reason.
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My toddler grabs the tube and uses two hands to squeeze oodles of toothpaste onto the toothbrush which gravity pulls off the bristles and so, when she picks up her brush, the toothpaste hangs in limbo like a large, slimy raindrop before falling into the sink.

Once we do get toothpaste set on the Bert and Ernie toothbrush, she moves it around in her mouth in a circular manner that makes me wonder if she even connects the brush to her teeth.  We switch to the Elmo toothbrush. “Move it up and down,” I remind her. “Move it back and forth.” I model with my hand. One day, she will do a more proper job.

We rinse both brushes. Tap, tap, tap them on the sink. We return all items to her cup. She hugs her cup again. And tells me, she will put everything away. She stands on the step stool and reaches high above her head to connect with the shelf and slide the cup into place. I hold my breath and hope the bookcase will remain fixed in its position on the floor. Shew!

Teeth brushing done.


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