Ask Teacher Lisa: Last straw

Dear Teacher Lisa,

I need all your suggestions to make the morning routine (changing, washing and brushing teeth) easier. We have had this problem for 4 years. My son just has a hard time washing and having water in his face. I feel like I have tried everything: books, videos of characters getting ready, making it into a game, it’s written and drawn on the “morning and night routine” poster in his room, tried to make it fun, tried to make it into a challenge (with a timer), using a song. Any other ideas? Or what do you use? Maybe your games are better than mine! Please help!


I’m On My Last Straw

Dear I’m On My Last Straw,

I wish I could be a fly on the wall. I would like to get a fuller picture of the whole process start to finish to be able to see where adjustments could be made. 

I’m curious about what is hardest…

…the transition from what he is enjoying doing?
…the anxiety about water on his face?

…wanting power and control over his own schedule and body?

…annoyance because he just doesn’t like doing these things? and he can probably feel your stress/irritation around them as well?


– Pick your battles.

– Involve him in the problem solving process. Have a discussion at a non-flooded time about how washing up/tooth-brushing are so not fun right now, but also so important for bodies to stay healthy. What could we do to make it more fun? You could find more ideas and also see if he has some. 

– Choices – want to use the strawberry toothpaste or the mint? The buzzy Star Wars electric toothbrush or the blue toothbrush? I usually ask kids if they want to wash their hands “silly” or “serious” and then I demonstrate one version where I grimace and wash and the silly version I go hand over hand with them and rub them really fast together while making a silly sound. They seem to love it. Kind of like the spaghetti arms version of hand washing. For the face, wash cloth or shower? Getting dressed—want my help or want to do it yourself? The space pjs or the dog pjs? I helped my kids a lot when they were under 5. Happy to report they are both sufficient at doing it themselves now. 

– Share responsibility between you and your partner and pick the items that are less triggering for you to be in charge of, or alternate to give each other breaks. Share tips w/each other about what has worked better or worse.

– Try special time right before, so you are connected—a story or a 10-minute pretend play sequence…maybe those storylines could carry over through the transition so it doesn’t feel so abrupt…

– All the other tools you mentioned are good: books, videos, games, routine/schedule. My guess is he’s feeling your stress and irritation and it feels like a power struggle. See if you can let go a little and he might resist less. Be curious and empathetic. Maybe if you just offer affection at that moment, he will relax a little and give you a clue about what’s going on. 

-During this pandemic, there are even more limits being put on our kids, without their usual outlets for stress relief, particularly of a physical nature, so those transitions may just be the moments he is letting his frustrations out. Maybe some playful roughhousing beforehand would be helpful?

Sometimes parenting is just hard even though you are doing all the right things! But I promise it won’t last forever, and eventually the tools and efforts will pay off. Hang in there!


Teacher Lisa

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