By: Alyson Schafer

With Halloween approaching, I know moms and dads will be wishing they had some better strategies to deal with the child who hates tooth brushing.

Here’s one way – Apply A Logical (logical to the child!) Consequence

One gift we can give our children is the understanding that in all of life we must take together both our rights and our responsibilities. Applying logical consequences is one part of parenting that respectfully teaches children their responsibilities.

In order for a logical consequence to be effective (and not punitive) it must be:

  • Respectful
  • Related to the freedom or right
  • Revealed to the child in advance so they are able to make a choice.

So let’s see what that looks like for Halloween treats and brushing teeth:

Your children would like to have the freedom to eat (some) sweets. That freedom comes with the responsibility of caring for their teeth by removing the sugar that causes tooth decay. They are a package deal. They should be inseparable.

Let your child know that so long as you see they are able to be responsible for caring for their teeth, you are happy to allow them to have sugar (in the form of pop, juice, milk, candy, cookies, other favorite things) but, should they choose not to care for their teeth, you’ll understand that they are choosing not to have sugar (tooth rotting substances), and you’ll feed them a “tooth-friendly diet” of just good wholesome fresh foods.


TTFT (Take time for training)
When they refuse to brush – say “I see you are choosing to not have sugar” and then move right along – don’t fight / force / lecture – DROP IT! Don’t worry about the effects of one or two or even a week of missed tooth brushing while you are training your child about the connection between this freedom and responsibility.

Mistakes Are Good
Expect your child to make mistakes (to choose not to brush) because that is how we all learn.

Follow Through
Now you must do your part of the consequence: remove the sugar you are feeding your child. This is the hardest part for parents, but this is where the experiential learning happens. When they have demonstrated they can brush as required – they can have sugar again.

Children do not learn from the threat of a consequence – they learn from experiencing the consequence.

Keep A Firm And Friendly Attitude
Don’t say anything negative or judgmental like: “If you would have brushed like I told you to” or “see, I knew you’d be mad”. Those comments are hurtful and send the message “I was right, you were wrong”.


About the author
Alyson Schäfer is a psychotherapist, parent coach and popular public speaker. She teaches parent education classes and works with parents one-on-one in her parent coaching practice.

Alyson is called on regularly by the media as a parenting expert. She has been featured in articles in Today’s Parent, Chatelaine, and Reader’s Digest. She has also been interviewed by the CBC and has appeared on TV shows like Planet Parent,Agenda, Health on the Line, W-Live with Erin Davis, and the CHCH Morning Show.

October 24, 2002, in Health & Hygiene
Article re-published with permission,