When my three-year-old son decided that mundane tasks (like brushing his teeth) were no longer interesting, I chose to meet this challenge without getting frustrated, but by adding some fun.
There are many words that come to mind when I think about raising my son: rewarding, breathtaking, enjoyable, challenging, and life changing to name a few.
As my son began to move out of his toddler stage to that of a preschooler, I found that I would mentally place more emphasis on the word challenging. As all three-year-old children rightfully should, he was bursting with questions and found a playful zest for anything and everything, except for listening to his Mama and Dada.
I have no desire to yell at my son to get him to act this way or that, and my husband and I have a very gentle parenting approach.
After a few failed attempts to motivate him that probably ended in tears (for myself and my little one), I resolved to tap into my inner child and make boring, but sometimes necessary, situations a lot more fun.
1. Brushing Teeth
I know that many children out there LOVE to brush their teeth, but my son was not one of them. He protested. He screamed. He complained of “tickles.” I dreaded brushing his teeth. My son has a vivid imagination, and a great sense of humor, so one night, I decided to pretend that his toothbrush, who I appropriately named Dent, was talking to him. Even sillier, Dent likes to guess what my son ate that day, an exchange where my son likes to tell him “yes, I ate that” or “no way!”
It was a hit right away. Now, morning and night, he visits Dent without complaint and enjoys brushing his teeth.
2. Washing Hands
While my son likes washing his hands more than brushing his teeth, this task still gets in the way of playtime, and is not something he is very enthusiastic about. Meet Soapy. Another friend, just like Dent, who has a variety of silly ways to get soap onto my son’s hands. My son enjoys this too and puts up little fight about regular hand washing.
3. Getting Ready to Go
Young children, who are blissfully unaware of the concept of punctuality and even the time of day, usually have little motivation to hustle out the door for an appointment. I remember having to ask my son upwards of ten times to put his shoes on before we left the house. Nagging was not the right approach.
Our new system has been to make getting dressed and ready to go a timed event, where my son is eager to beat his records. We count how long it takes him to put his shoes on, socks on, coat on….whatever……and he will move fast to see how quickly he can do it. If he beats a fictitious record, he is the new champion!
I have practiced this with other young children too, friends and family, and can say 100% of the time it has worked.
4. Getting in the Carseat
I use the same record timing approach for getting my son to climb into the car seat. In fact, this strategy could really be used for a lot of daily tasks, although I am trying my best not to overdo it so it holds the little one’s interest.
5. Grocery Shopping
Any other parents hold their breath pretty much the whole time they are running errands with a little one? I have two strategies that usually let me breath a little easier.
First, at the grocery store I try to have a scavenger hunt of sorts, prepared to keep him entertained. I encourage he be on the lookout for several items as we navigate the aisles. This might include a fruit he would like to eat for the week, or a certain color or type of food. This activity is super helpful for children who are picky or selective eaters too.
Second, I admit resorting to a little bit of bribery. If we make it through all of the aisles successfully without tears or complaint, we park our grocery cart near the book section and pick a story or two to read together. My son looks forward to this and is usually a happy camper at the grocery store.
6. Eating Vegetables
For us, mealtime is all about cooperation and connection, never coercion. I am not sure I agree with the phrase “don’t play with your food,” because for us, it has been a successful strategy for increasing our son’s vegetable intake.
A few of our ideas include:
- Pretending we are plant-eating dinosaurs when we eat our leafy greens
- Pretending that certain vegetables give us super powers (such as breathing fire)
- Acting out scenes with raw vegetables (including whole carrots, tops and all) in which they eventually get eaten in the role play.
These ideas are not exhaustive and I certainly cannot guarantee they will be a hit with all children. I do know they have been a lot of fun for our little family and keep parenting (most of the time) fairly frustration free.