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What is your child thinking???

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Behavior is motivated. Learn ways to explore why your child is acting up.

As parents, we often assume we know what our kids are thinking, or it never occurs to us to ask.  We are often surprised and humored by the various things that slip out of their mouths, which are evidence of what is going on in their little minds. 

A few weeks ago I was driving into town with my kids. I noticed the yellow hue of my son’s teeth in the rearview mirror and glance back to see the nasty fuzzies growing on his teeth.  Ewe.  So I casually ask him how long it has been since he brushed his teeth.  He stated, “2 weeks.”  I’m thinking “2 weeks???!!!???” and I’m totally horrified.  At first, a choke a little and forget that I’m driving, then have to self-correct to keep from running off the road.  Sheesh. 

So I’m experiencing a huge parenting failure.  As I see it, I have 3 options: 

1.  I could whip the car around and head home prepared to put on my best drill sergeant parent act and attack my son’s face with the toothbrush ASAP. 

2.  I can shame my son for his failure to care for his body and project all of my negative feelings on him.

3.  I can put my counseling skills to use and figure out his motivation.


I went with option 3.  So I tell him, “You know, buddy, when my teeth are dirty it really bothers me.  It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and feels gross.  I can’t imagine going 2 weeks without brushing.  Does it bother you having dirty teeth?”  He says, “Yeah, it’s gross.”  So I prompt, “Then why not brush?” He says, “Because I want my teeth to fall out.  Then I’ll get money.” 

Wow!  I never saw that one coming.  I had the opportunity to explain to him how gum disease is a slow process blah, blah, blah.  I also inform him that the payout for dirty teeth is only a small percentage of what it will be for clean teeth.

The point is, thoughts motivate behavior.  If he believes his teeth will fall out and he’s going to make a bunch of money, he’s motivated to avoid caring for his oral health.  However, once his thoughts were corrected, he now willingly (most of the time) brushes his teeth.  And I’m a lot more consistent with making sure he does so! 


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