Our children on the autism spectrum are no different from us in that they too move toward and want to do activities that are fun! Below are four steps that will help you help your child master the skill of cleaning their teeth.
- Take the stress out of the equation by letting go of the outcome.Everything we do with our child matters. What we think and feel is communicated to our children in so many different ways. In the tone of our voice, the touch of our hand and the softness or hardness of our facial expressions. Does the thought of cleaning your child’s teeth fill you with dread and stress, or fun and delight? Is it something you just want to get over and done with so that the real fun of playing can happen? If it fills you with dread then the first place to start is let go of the outcome of actually getting your child’s teeth cleaned and focus instead on enjoying the process. How can our children begin to enjoy this process if we do not? Try letting go of the outcome of actually getting your child’s teeth brushed just for a couple of days, and instead focus on making it as fun as possible for you and your child. You have nothing to lose by trying this and everything to gain.
- Find two things to love about the process of brushing teeth. When we love something we tend to be more enthusiastic, the more enthusiastic we are the more inviting we will be in encouraging our children to move toward and enjoy the process of cleaning their teeth. There are so many things to love! We have the toothbrush itself—many amazing toothbrushes on the market—buy one YOU love. The way our teeth feel after they have been cleaned—all smooth and fresh. The minty sweet taste of the toothpaste. Get into it! Then express the sincere love you have of the process to your child. Tell them about the delicious taste of the toothpaste, or the awesomeness of your toothbrush. Sell the process.
- Model the joy of cleaning your teeth.Once you have your own things to love about cleaning your teeth, then clean your teeth in a joyous “over the top” way in front of your child. It is ok if your child is not looking at you or seemingly interested in what you are doing. Know that if they are in the room they are taking in some part of what you are doing. Have a blast showing your child how great it is to clean your own teeth.
- Make it fun for your child.Do this by adding what your child loves most to their tooth brushing experience. This is the key to making it especially fun to your child. Each of our children have their own unique interest and things that they particularly love. Put what your child loves most at the center. For example, if your child loves a particular character such as Thomas the Tank Engine, bring Thomas along and clean his teeth too. Get a tooth brush with Thomas on it. Create a train track with masking tape on the bathroom floor that leads to the sink where the toothbrush and toothpaste are waiting. If your child loves to watch ribbons and pieces of string dangle, wrap string and ribbon around their toothbrush to make it more inviting for them. If your child has a special topic of conversation that they love to talk about, incorporate that topic of conversation into tooth brushing. For example if their topic is about Austin Powers dance like him as you brush their teeth and say, “Cleaning teeth is Groovy” in an Austin Powers accent. If their topic is about different kinds of weather, pretend you are trying to clean their teeth in the middle of a tornado or snow storm.
For more ideas on how to inspire your child to love cleaning their own teeth or other everyday skills, read my book Autistic Logistics.