What Parents Say Influences How a Child Brushes

Oklahoma City family dentists

At 23rd Street Dental, our Oklahoma City family dentists believe that quality oral hygiene habits must start at a young age. To set the foundation necessary to become healthy adults with great-looking smiles, kids need to embrace the importance of daily brushing and flossing. But as most parents will attest, trying to convince a small child to willingly brush and floss can often feel like a clash of wills.

Kids’ behavior constantly changes throughout childhood, and the factors that shape these changes are largely understudied. A new study recently published in Child Development by researchers at the Santa Fe Institute, Yale University, and the University of Pennsylvania examined the toothbrushing habits of three-year-olds and analyzed the relationship between how well they performed the task and the praise they received from parents.

“Our work is the first to show that fluctuations in parent praise relate to fluctuations in child persistence brushing,” wrote the lead research team from the University of Pennsylvania. “We examined how variations in parent praise and stress, and child mood and sleep, separately impacted fluctuation in brushing time.”

Researchers hope that by identifying the type of praise children need to hear in order to better embrace brushing, they could provide parents a better understanding of what they need to do in order to make brushing more tolerable to their kids.

More Praise Leads to Better Brushing Habits

As part of their study, researchers examined 81 three-year-olds who were learning to brush. The data was collected over a 16-day period during two different time periods from families living in Pennsylvania.

Parents provided nightly videos of toothbrushing with their kids over the 16-day periods, recording both how the parents talked to their kids and how well their kids brushed their teeth. Parents were asked to start recording the video prior to their child placing the toothbrush into their mouth and to stop recording when they took the toothbrush back from their child. Parents were also asked to let their kids brush their own teeth for as long as possible before it was necessary for the parents to step in and help. The videos also included audio of how the parents talked to their children throughout the toothbrushing process, including the types of “praise” the parents provided.

The research team broke “praise” down into categories that included, “process praise” (such as saying “good job”), “person praise” (saying “good girl/boy”), and “other praise” (such as saying “nice” or “very good”). Other types of conversations from parents included “distraction” (activities like singing or reading to a child during brushing), and the use of expressions such as “keep brushing” and “brush your back teeth” as instructions.

Parents were also asked to complete daily surveys that include questions about:

  • Nightly stress levels for parents: ranging from 0 to 10
  • Child’s mood: ranging from 0 (extremely bad) to 10 (extremely good)
  • Sleep duration: the length of nap time a child received during the day, a child’s nightly bedtime, wakeup time, and how many times a child woke up during the night

The study found that a child’s willingness to brush fluctuates daily and is directly related to parental talk. Children brushed longer on the days when parents used more praise and less instruction. Parent praise during brushing mostly consisted of generic praise (such as “good job” and “nice”), with person praise (“good boy/girl”) offering very little improvement to performance. The impact of sleep, mood, and parental stress varied in how it impacted a child’s willingness to brush.

“Our work provides a path towards identifying the specific factors that impact individual children’s persistence to design targeted interventions, some of which parents may not find obvious,” wrote the research team. “Our work also demonstrates a new approach to studying children’s healthy development – instead of focusing on what factors make one group of children different from another, our study asked which factors make individual children more like the best version of themselves.”

Our Oklahoma City Family Dentists can Help to Improve Your Child’s Oral Health

The results of the study show that parents can help to improve their kids’ commitment to brushing and flossing, but parents also need to schedule regular appointments with our Oklahoma City family dentists to ensure a healthy smile.

Regular exams provide our dentists with the opportunity to assess a child’s oral health development and to spot any potential signs of trouble early one while still easily treatable. By scheduling regular dental appointments from a young age, parents can help to ensure the foundation of their kids’ oral health remains strong now and into the future.

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