Lions and tigers and bears: brushing toddler teeth

Twenty years ago, as a teenager needing to earn some money, I started babysitting for local families after school and at weekends. I found I really loved it: I loved being around children, and after I’d put them to bed I would do my homework in front of the TV and get paid for it. Families recommended me to other friends who needed a babysitter, and soon I had quite a business empire, and was having to pass on some families to my friends.

Some of the things I do with my children now were habits or ideas that I picked up back then, either from the different families’ ways of doing things or my own inventions. One of my favourite was a solution to the problem of brushing toddlers’ teeth: they won’t open their mouths wide enough or keep them open for long enough. My answer was to tell them, first of all, to growl like a bear. GRRRR! With their teeth firmly shut but bared, so I could brush the outsides. As long as they kept growling, I could reach their teeth. Then roar like a lion. RAARGH! Mouth wide open, teeth exposed, so I could brush the tops and sides. Excellent! I continued doing this with all of my own children and it worked brilliantly.

Except that each of my children has found ways to do things differently from the one before, to demonstrate to me that I don’t know everything. So my youngest son, like every two-year-old I have known, started pulling funny faces, like this:

How to brush two-year-old's teeth

I don’t know where this face comes from, because it’s not something adults or older children really do, but it has emerged from all my children at two years old as if it were some innate survival instinct. Anyway, next time I asked him to roar so I could brush his teeth, he said “No, brush my funny face”. And you know what? It’s even better than my lions and bears. I think I’ve just been outparented by my toddler.

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