Danish family therapist and author of “Your Competent Child”, Jesper Juul talks about “Equal Dignity” between parent and child.
What does he mean by this? It is clearly not about equality, that is an impossibility between parent and child. As the adult it’s actually very important you realise and see the effect of how you hold more power, more knowledge, more financial control than your children do.
Equal dignity as I understand it is more about taking the values, the needs and the wants of your children seriously. The important point of this is that taking your child seriously doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. Your children desperately need your adult leadership. It’s just a fact: you know things about the world that they don’t. They need you to lead the way.
When your little girl (or boy) says “I don’t want to brush my teeth,” you can have equal dignity and say “I can understand that and I want you to brush your teeth.” The important point to understand in equal dignity is to remember that your child’s position isn’t wrong. It is her idea, her opinion in that moment. Based on the knowledge she holds (brushing teeth is annoying, disturbing to a game, tastes horrible or whatever) he is entitled to that opinion.
Based on the knowledge you hold (brushing teeth is an essential aspect of good dental hygiene, not brushing teeth is costly, has long term consequences and will lead to teeth decay) you need to let her know why you are insisting your way with concern, understanding and respect for her opinion.
Giving your child a choice where there is one can help her feel respected and given the dignity she needs. “So would you like to brush your teeth with me or with Daddy?” Or “Shall we brush teddy’s teeth first or yours?” after you have respected she doesn’t want to do it, you can introduce an option within the confines of the authority you hold. That gives your child her dignity back. We do have an amazing six years in which to practice this teeth brushing because it only gets REALLY important that it happens as their adult teeth come in.
My experience is usually by the time they start loosing their milk teeth they are also much more willing to understand why it’s important to clean the new adult teeth that are growing in.
Shouting “you have to brush your teeth NOW because I say so” and forcing a tooth brush down her mouth is a sure-fire way to lose dignity for both of you! Believe me I’ve tried it and we both ended in tears !