For months when my daughter was 5, she'd literally run from the room whenever she saw me with the hairbrush. I wasn't able to take my 2-year-old's temperature for a year. And when my third child was an infant and had an infection, he'd simply spit out most of his medicine.
There are some things you can't make your child do no matter how hard you try. So we talked to moms, doctors, and other experts for their top tips on getting kids to do the things they loathe most. I've tried nearly all of these strategies with my own kids, and many of them are already working for me.
Trimming Scraggly Fingernails
Distract your child by giving her something to hold in her other hand, or put her in front of the TV. Clippers or scissors work equally well, doctors say, so use whichever method you're most comfortable with. To keep from catching any skin, press down on the pad of the finger to separate it from the nail before you clip or cut. Keep it light with a trick that one pediatrician uses with her own children: Pretend the little fingernail pieces are hitting you in the head while you clip. "I'd say, 'Ow!!!' and my kids would crack up," says Stephanie Richter, M.D., of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Start early -- as soon as your baby's first tooth erupts -- so he gets used to the feeling of having something in his mouth, says Monica Cipes, D.M.D., a pediatric dentist in West Hartford, Connecticut. Once your child is around age 2, instead of standing in front of him to brush, have him sit on your lap or stand facing away from you. Then tell him to lean his head back, resting it on your chest. This way you can actually see his teeth better and you're less likely to gag him, Dr. Cipes says.
Use just a tiny smear of fluoridated toothpaste -- it's best for fighting cavities. Plus, it's not as sweet as fluoride-free paste, so your child will be less tempted to clamp down on the brush and suck. For preschoolers, give them a high five when they're being cooperative. And older kids will probably like chewable tablets and colorful rinses that show them the areas that they need to brush better.
You can also set yourselves up for success by letting your child pick out a toothbrush he likes, such as one that features his favorite character, or try a battery-operated model. Then make a silly game out of brushing: Have a chat with the "cavity germs" in your child's mouth, suggests Conway, Arkansas, mom Karen Mann, who says things like, "I am going to get you, cavity germs! You are not going to make holes in Sophia's teeth." Then Mann switches to a high-pitched voice for the cavity germs: "Oh no, please don't get us! We're having a picnic in here." If your child tries to grab the toothbrush from you, buy a second one and give him his own to hold.
Untangling That Hair
If your child has long hair, use a detangling spray or leave-in conditioner to make it easier. Giving the hair some slack, try gently pulling apart any knots you can with your fingers first, suggests Erin Greene, a stylist at Doolittle's, a children's hair salon in Charlotte, North Carolina. Don't start brushing or combing from the scalp down; that just makes tangles worse. Instead, hold one section of her hair at a time near the scalp and begin brushing or combing from the ends. Then slowly work your way up. "If you do it this way, she won't feel it when you're getting all the knots out," says Greene. To distract your daughter, you might also let her hold her favorite doll and brush her hair at the same time. Or turn on Dora. Rachel Knighten, of Appleton, Wisconsin, says that whenever her girls get upset about brushing, she reminds them that long hair is a privilege. "If they won't let me take care of it, then we can cut it to a more manageable length."
Using a tear-free shampoo, sculpt your child's lathered-up hair into fun designs, then have her count to see how fast you can rinse. Keep water out of her eyes by using a dry washcloth, swim goggles, a foam visor, or even a terry-cloth headband. You can also get a gadget called a Shampoo Rinse Cup, which has a soft rubber lip you press against your child's head ($6; toysrus.com).
Making the Medicine Go Down
For an infant, first recline him in a bouncy seat, then squirt the medicine into one side of his mouth with a syringe or a dropper and gently squeeze his cheeks until he swallows. He'll do this as soon as he feels the liquid in the back of his throat, explains Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, M.D., co?author of Heading Home With Your Newborn. You can also try using a medicine dispenser shaped like a nipple or a pacifier, or a product called ReliaDose (which is basically a baby bottle with a syringe inside) that lets you give the medication while your child is eating ($15; reliadose.com).
You have lots of options with a child older than 1. Try giving him a little honey or maple syrup before the medicine to help mask the bitter taste. Or teach your child to hold his nose while taking a bad-tasting medicine and then follow up with a pleasant-tasting chaser like grape juice or a spoonful of jelly. If the doctor says it's okay, you can mix some medicines into a few ounces of juice, applesauce, or another soft food. (Just make sure your child eats or drinks all of it so he gets the full dose.) You can also ask your pharmacist to add a different flavor to medicine. If your child needs to take a pill, it may be easier for him swallow it with something thick like pudding instead of water. Or try the special Oralflo pill-swallowing cup ($15; oralflo.com).
Always try to give your child choices so he feels like he has some control over the situation, says Hal Runkel, a licensed family therapist and author of Screamfree Parenting. Let him decide whether he'll take his medicine while standing up or sitting down, and choose the food or drink to chase it with. Then tell him: "You don't have a choice about whether you're going to take the medicine, but you do have a choice about how," suggests Runkel.
Ripping Off a Bandage
Prep for the event by letting your child put a bandage on a doll and also on you, and then practice ripping them off. It's easiest to remove a bandage right after a bath, because water will loosen the adhesive. Then soak a cotton ball in baby oil or mineral oil and dab the top and edges of the bandage to further dissolve the glue, suggests Dr. Richter. Once it comes off, gently press the skin afterward -- that can help dull any pain. If the process is still a problem, doctors say there's no harm in waiting for the bandage to fall off on its own.
Taking Your Kid's Temperature
To take a rectal temperature, place your baby on her back, hold both ankles with one hand, then bend her legs to her chest and lift up her bottom, says Dr. Shu. Gently insert a thermometer coated in a small amount of lubricant, such as petroleum jelly, ? inch to 1 inch inside the rectum, and hold it loosely until you get a reading. For children older than 3, you can use a digital thermometer under the tongue. Make sure that you help hold it in place, and try humming with your child until the reading comes in. If your child is especially resistant, or has a stuffy nose that forces her to breathe through her mouth, you can take her temperature under her arm or use an ear thermometer. Dr. Shu's office uses a temporal-artery thermometer, which you swipe across the forehead; she says that it's accurate on children older than 6 months. No matter which technique you use, buy a thermometer that gives you a reading in ten seconds or less.
You can also help older kids cooperate by taking your own temperature first and showing them that it's not a big deal. Or practice on a beloved stuffed animal. When it's your child's turn, distract her with a book, a video, or a favorite toy. If you have more than one child (and you have enough thermometers), try this idea from Seattle mom Amy Efroymson: "Even if only one of my three daughters is sick, I give them each a thermometer and get them to compete in 'thermometer races.' They love to see who can get the beeping noise to go off first."
Keeping a Toddler in His Car Seat
Challenge your child by saying, "You can't climb into the car seat by yourself, can you?" You could also install a toy car seat next to your child and let him ride next to his favorite stuffed animal. (Find toy car seats and toy booster seats at joovy.com.) Give him something to hold -- such as a toy or a book -- as soon as you lift him into the seat. It will distract him while you buckle him in. If he stiffens up like a board, try tickling him and blowing raspberries on his belly to loosen him up. Never start the car until everyone is buckled in.
Consider making a trip to see a local firefighter or police officer to reinforce your car safety message. Nicki Bosch, of Ridgewood, New Jersey, told her four children that a police officer would pull them over and give her a ticket if the kids weren't buckled in. "I explained that in order to pay for the tickets, we'd have to use the 'fun money' that we usually reserve for going to the movies or for ice cream," Bosch says. "Now when we get in the car and I say, 'Click it or ticket?' they know what's at stake and they buckle right up."
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.
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