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The Power of Praise: Why and How to Praise your Child for Brushing their Teeth

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Praise feels good to everyone, so it makes sense that when teaching children to brush their teeth, praise can help them establish healthy techniques they can use throughout their lifetime.

Why is praise effective?

When trying to reinforce good behavior, like proper brushing or flossing, praise can help establish the good feelings of accomplishment and motivation to keep it up. Praise can also inspire children to be more cooperative and persistent when they try new things. When used effectively, you are showing your child how to think and talk positively about themselves. Just remember, overusing praise can diminish its impact, so use it thoughtfully.

Types of Praise

  • Kids need praise even when they don’t appear to do something praiseworthy. “Process praise” is praise that recognizes a child’s effort or choice. For instance, saying something like, “I like the way you tried to floss your back teeth, instead of just giving up.”

  • “Descriptive praise” is when you tell your child exactly what it is they did well. For example, “I like the way you put your toothbrush and toothpaste back in their place.”

  • You can also keep your praise simple with an enthusiastic exclamation (“wow!”) or a supportive gesture (like a high five) to engender good feelings.

Tips for using praise for brushing

  • Set a good example. Do you brush twice a day? Let your kids see you brush regularly and if you can, have them join you.

  • Look for nonverbal ways to praise or encourage. A thumbs up, smile or high five can be powerful ways to show your child you’re impressed by their brushing or flossing efforts.

  • Surprise your child with a reward for good behavior. For example, “Thanks for brushing your teeth without me asking. Let’s go to the park to celebrate!”

  • Look for little changes and successes. Rather than waiting until your child has done something perfectly to give a compliment, try to praise any effort or improvement (for example, brushing their back teeth).

  • Praise more than you criticize. As a guide, try to praise your child five times for every one time you say something negative.

Sometimes it’s easier to notice challenging behaviors than positive behaviors. But look for when your kid is behaving in positive ways and then use the opportunity to praise their good behavior. They will feel good, the focus will be on the positive behavior, and you will feel good, too. The small things you say can build up over time to have a big effect on your child.

Note: If you are continuing to praise and it doesn’t change the behavior, take a break. Maybe the child isn’t ready for the behavior yet.

Want more tips to encourage healthy oral habits in your kids? Ask us at your next appointment!

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