How to do hard things — lessons from a child
4 steps to help you do things you don’t want to do (+ you’ll learn how to brush a child’s teeth!)
Every night my wife and I do something we don’t want to do…brush and floss our young children’s teeth. There may be some people who enjoy putting their hands in other people’s mouths, but I am not one of those people!
Yet, like it or not, it must be done. Well, I guess that’s not exactly true. We don’t HAVE to do it. We could just not brush their teeth. And you could just skip all the hard things in life you don’t want to do like exercise, healthy eating, difficult conversations, deadlines, and taxes.
The problem is, we know the result of not doing the hard things…
We weren’t always so diligent with the whole brushing and flossing thing, and then our 5-year-old son had 8 cavities and it cost us $$$!
If you skip the hard stuff, you know the results too. You will feel tired, gain weight, ruin relationships, lose jobs, and go to jail (ok, a little extreme maybe, but you get the point).
After feeling like terrible parents and being out a grand, we were determined to figure out how to make teeth brushing work at our house. It wasn’t easy, but after some trial and error, we discovered 4 steps that work for us. These steps can help you do hard things as well.
4 proven steps to do things you don’t want to do
1. Start with something fun
You can’t make everything fun. Sometimes hard things are hard no matter what you do. But you can improve your emotional state before you start the hard thing. Eat or drink something you love, listen to an inspiring song, or read your favorite quote.
Before teeth brushing time, we do a Millennium Falcon ride. It starts in the family room with one child in each arm and ends in the children’s bedroom, usually with a Star Wars sing-off…
2) Build a routine
We humans have much less self-control than we think we do, especially when we’re tired and stressed. Don’t test your willpower every time you have to do a hard thing. Create a routine and stick with it. Design the routine to address the challenges you know you will face.
For example, with brushing our children’s teeth, we know getting our boys to sit still and not run away will be difficult. However, in a moment of desperation one night, we let them choose their favorite song to listen to while we brushed their teeth, and it worked! This is now part of our nightly teeth brushing routine.
Our 3-yr-old’s current song choice:
Our 5-yr-old’s current song choice:
3) Have the right tools
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln
Doing hard stuff without the right tools is foolish and wasteful. Don’t make it harder on yourself than it has to be! Learn from others. Find out what tools the experts use and copy them.
For teeth brushing, one tool we didn’t know about was a pair of chairs. A small chair for the child and a large chair for the parent. The child sits in front of the parent with head tilted back so that the parent has the right angle to floss and brush easily. A dentist friend taught us about this tool. It sounds simple, but it makes a big difference.
4) Reward yourself
It was hard, but you did it! Celebrate! Reward yourself for sticking with your routine and doing the hard thing. The reward can be small, but it should be something you’re excited about. It could be watching Netflix or going on a vacation. The frequency and difficulty of the hard thing you accomplish should determine the type of reward. (FYI, you probably don’t need a beach vacation after every workout session 😉)
For our children, the reward is reading stories or watching videos in bed. Videos in bed?! Yes, we started using Google Photos on our phones to go back and watch videos of the children when they were younger. They love this! If we have problems with the teeth brushing or bedtime routine, a simple reminder that we will not be able to read stories or watch videos if they do not cooperate usually does the trick.
These 4 steps changed the teeth brushing routine in our home. We still have nights where we forget to brush teeth or it turns into a battle of the wills, but that’s usually when we don’t follow these steps.
Brushing a child’s teeth may be small in comparison to the hard things you don’t want to do, but hopefully the simplicity of this example can illustrate the power of these 4 steps.
Here are the steps again:
- Start with something fun
- Build a routine
- Have the right tools
- Reward yourself
If you have your own process or tools to do hard things, please share your favorites in the comments. Thanks!