The Right Way to Brush Your Teeth–Or: Why I Don’t Want to Be Lectured on How to Raise Kids

When I was a young girl in kindergarten (well, I was only three years old in a two-year Australian kindergarten program which would be comparable to a modern American preschool), a dental professional came to visit our classroom and teach us the correct way to brush our teeth. “Back and forth, back and forth,” we were told as we watched a giant toothbrush slide over a giant fake set of teeth. Ah! I’ve learned the proper way, from an expert, I thought. I will brush my teeth like that from now on.

The next year, a dental professional visited again. “Up and down, up and down. This is the proper way to brush your teeth.” Hmmm, but wasn’t it back and forth? I know that’s what we were told last year. “Oh, no, we know more now, and this is the proper way,” we were assured. Well, perhaps they do know more now, I thought. I will do it the right way now that I truly know.

The following year, a dental professional visited us again. “Circles, circles, circles. This is the proper way to brush your teeth.” I looked around at the other kids. They all seemed to be buying it, but I wasn’t. Instead of learning the intended lesson, I had learned something else. I learned that day that the professionals didn’t really know the best method for brushing teeth. They kept changing their minds and were always sure at any given moment that they were right, but later on they would look back and declare that moment’s statement invalid. Apparently, they knew that teeth should be brushed, but beyond that they really didn’t know.

Maybe I was a precocious first grader. Maybe I had a bad attitude. Honestly, I doubt my teacher had any idea of my thoughts because I behaved myself in class and did as I was supposed to–other than crying too easily when bullied. But that moment with the tooth brushing lesson was the beginning of my skepticism about experts who were sure they knew what others should do. That carries over to today. Tell me that you know the best way for others to (or not to) do something with their kids (discipline them, teach lessons, feed them, motivate them, etc.) and I will be highly skeptical.

Age hasn’t helped matters any either. Now that I’m fifty, I sometimes have a lot less tolerance for such pontificating–especially when it comes from people much younger and much less experienced than I. I’ve raised a lot of kids, seen lots of different ways of raising children as I’ve traveled the world, and I am sure that none of the experts know what will always work best for every kid. And I don’t always have the patience to put up with it when they try to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. I’ve seen too many ideas come and go and come back again to jump on the latest band wagon. With all the kids I’ve raised and taught, I think I trust my experience a lot more than the latest theory of some expert.



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