Question: My 14-year-old son does not brush his teeth, except during the week before going to the dentist. He doesn't have any cavities, his breath is fine, his check-ups at the dentist are at the "acceptable" level (not great, but passable), and his teeth look fine. So he feels like it's an unnecessary bother. I nevertheless am concerned that he is setting himself up for dental problems. My wife wants to clamp down on this and enforce him brushing his teeth very closely, which would consist of being in the bathroom with him and supervising his brushing. If we didn't watch him, he will go in the bathroom and just do a perfunctory job, or just wet his toothbrush and say he brushed. Any advice?
Answer: My advice is you accept that you have done and said everything you can do and say to get him to realize the importance of brushing his teeth and stop doing or saying anything. Have you not yet figured out that short of standing over him while he brushes — something that is going to get very tiresome very quickly — you aren't going to win this battle? And I suspect, by the way, that this has turned into a power struggle that he is winning, he knows he's winning, and he is going to continue winning no matter what you do.
If you stand over him in the bathroom twice a day, you are going to stimulate more passive-aggressive behavior from him and become increasingly exasperated. He's going to see to that. Drop it. It is only a matter of time before his peers begin telling him he has bad breath. One cannot neglect brushing forever and not develop halitosis. You also can inform him that if he develops a cavity, it will be his job to pay for the repair, and that his privileges will be suspended until he has satisfied the debt. Let this monkey be on his back, not yours.
Q: Our 4-year-old son (middle child with older and younger sisters) frequently uses "baby talk." It doesn't seem to be a way of seeking attention, because when we ask him to repeat in his "big boy voice" he will do so, and he does this only with us. Is correcting him making a bigger deal out of it than necessary and possibly making it worse?
A: On the 1-to-10 scale of important parenting matters, I give this a 1. No offense intended, but this is something about which your great-grandmother, when she was raising her kids, would not have given any mental energy. Today's parents often worry so much about small details, many of which are completely insignificant (as is the case here) that they miss the bigger picture. Beware falling into that trap.
My advice is that you give this no attention. In fact, I recommend that you have fun with it. Talk to him in baby talk — not always, but occasionally. Sometimes, when he slips up and talks in his "big boy voice," tell him you can't understand him. Obviously, he can articulate properly, so you have no reason for worry. Be assured, this will resolve itself in due time. I seriously doubt that he will repeat his marriage vows in "baby talk."
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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