Why is my child so difficult in the morning?

Jupica asks: My kid is 3 years old, and she does a big show in the morning, because she won’t clean her mouth or brush her teeth. She cries and screams a lot, making a big noise. That takes sometimes half hour, and we are almost always late to school. Do you have any nice and easy idea that works in my case?

Hi Jupica –


I have two thoughts, which are completely different from each other.  One is really common and should be fixable pretty easily; and the other is rarer, and really important to get to work on if that’s the case.

My first thought is – you have a 3-year-old who’s going to school.  That’s pretty young, and she might well just hate going there and feeling abandoned by you (even if she actually has a good time once she’s there!).  If so, this is simple Separation Anxiety, and she will probably grow out of it soon.  What you can do to make it better now, if this is the case, is to get up a little earlier in the morning so that you can spend more time with her.  Maybe you can even play a game in the morning, while getting ready, or read her a story.  What we want is for her to feel she’s really gotten some good parenting.  Think of it like eating – you want her to get enough to eat before she goes to school, right?  Well she might feel she needs a healthy breakfast of Mom and/or Dad too, before heading out into the big world for the day!  And during this, you can be with her when she brushes her teeth, too and even help her out.  After a few weeks of that, she’s probably going to want to assert her independence and insist that you stop helping – which will mean this problem of today is over!  She might still have some Separation Anxiety, though, and if so, please write me back and we can work on that.

Okay, so, second thought.  Some children have a condition called Sensory Integrative Disorder, in which they are way more sensitive than most kids, often in many ways.  These kids can’t stand being in a loud lunchroom with other screaming children.  These kids don’t like really bright lights.  And – here’s the really telling part – these are the kids who are super-sensitive to touch, and need to have special stuff done, like cutting the tags out of their underwear, because they bother them too much.  If your daughter sounds at all like this could be the case, her problem might be that her mouth is very sensitive and she literally hates the sensation of bristles scrubbing at  her gums!

If this is the case, you really need to get professional help for her.  Occupational Therapists do a great job with Sensory Integration, and, while she’ll likely always be more sensitive than most people, with help she can certainly get to where she’s a lot more able to handle the world… and toothbrushes!


I will add, Jupica, that I do relate to your daughter.  For millennia, humans didn’t bother with cleaning their dogs’ teeth, but now veterinarians recommend it highly.  And I have to say, I just HATE it when Handsome brushes my teeth, or even more so when the vet works on my teeth with a scraper and a pick and all that stuff.  And I only get these treatments very occasionally.  If I had to go through it every morning, I’d throw a tantrum too!

But I do suggest that you see if she’s reacting to the upcoming school day or the actual sensation of the brushing.  If so, I think my ideas will help.

But if it’s not one of those, please write me back and let me know what you find.  I’d so much rather be answering your letter than getting my teeth cleaned!




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