My 3 year old Eden is developing his will. It’s so strong though that I’m not sure if it is normal behaviour. If he decides that he doesn’t want to do something (especially cleaning teeth) he screams and cries and goes into a total state. I feel that he is scaring himself. We talk about him doing it the easy way where he just does it and it is over with and sometimes this works but a lot of the time he seems to lose himself into the chaos of his anger. I don’t want to do anything which would damage him emotionally but I need to find a gentle way of getting him to do the important things like bathing and tooth brushing. What are your thoughts?
Thanks for your time Davini
Your son’s behavior is not only normal but actually a good indication that he is rooted in himself. You have a reason to rejoice. When it comes to body care, you want to ensure that your child is feeling autonomous and resistant to manipulation, so no one can hurt him. I recall hearing my (then) three-year-old screaming. When I rushed to see what happened it turned out that his uncle lifted him in his arms without asking his permission. I thought to myself, “Good. No one can molest this kid.”
I so strongly trust children, that my initial response to any behavior is that the child is right. The child always has a valid reason for his behavior and we must understand his need and find a way to respect him, even when his actual desire cannot be fulfilled. I get from your question that you feel the same and you want to find a way to honor your child’s preferences.
Emotional well being is by far more crucial than brushing teeth, washing hands or taking a shower. Therefore, my first advice is to question your own convictions about teeth and cleanliness. You don’t want him to give up his will. You want him to assert his being and resist manipulation, specially when it comes to his own body.
Our culture is rather compulsive about cleanliness and is driven by an exaggerated fear of pathogens and bacteria. The increase in young people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is alarming. A recent study shows that our dirt and pathogen phobia is not helping children’s health. Here are two links to useful articles about this subject:
Teeth and body health come from inside. Animals don’t brush their teeth. Acidic and cooked foods are considered by some to be the cause of human teeth deterioration. Make sure that your child eats healthy food that does not rot the teeth. If he has a tendency for cavities, reduce the amount of acidic fruits he eats and after eating such fruit, have him rinse with water or mother’s milk. If your child’s teeth are healthy, I invite you to question the modern idea of daily teeth brushing altogether. I raised my three children without brushing teeth. My husband and I brushed our teeth in front of them daily. Eventually they wanted to do it too (around age eight), and by then could brush on their own. There was never a struggle and their teeth are healthy.
Once you feel more relaxed about your child’s hygiene, go ahead and consider a less strict and more fun ways of cleaning up. Teeth can be gently wiped with wet cloth, or have your child drink some water. Toothpaste is unpleasant and makes no difference (or can be harmful;) without it you son may like brushing much better. Butter counters the acidity and can be used instead of toothpaste. I am not a health professional, so do your own search. If your child has a tendency to develop cavities, check holistic dental treatments including oxygen and xylitol. Again, you must do your own research.
Taking a bath with water only is sufficient for a young child and much more fun. He does not sweat yet. You only want to get the food, paint, mud or sand off of him. Soaping is hard on the skin and not necessary. Shampoo (even organic) is bad for the hair, skull, blood stream and environment (plastic containers, production, and delivery are polluting). I know parents who wash their children’s hair with water only. The children don’t mind it and the hair looks shiny and clean. If you must, you can clean his hair with a raw egg (blend lightly and use like shampoo.) It does not burn in the eyes and you can wash your hair with it too.
Any time you impose on your child how to care for his own body, you cross the line of respect and erode his trust in himself. Unless it is a medical emergency, I recommend that you listen to him and protect his dignity. He may be resisting because of your strong intent. Model what you want him to learn and let him choose autonomously when he is ready.
Warmly, Naomi Alodrt www.AuthenticParent.com