I can’t do without the Philips Sonicare – neither can my 3-year-old

I can’t do without the Philips Sonicare – neither can my 3-year-old

Kevin Hofer
Zurich, on 28.04.2021
Translation: Octavia Hurst
Brushing teeth with toddlers? A pain. At least until I discovered the Philips «Sonicare for Kids».

Deafening screams, foaming mouth, bloodshot eyes. I’m not fighting a rabid dog here, but my three-year-old son who doesn’t like me brushing his teeth. After all – I think somewhat ashamedly – he has his mouth open when he’s screaming. At least this allows me to reach his teeth with the manual toothbrush. But he completely resists, we make no progress at all.

This is a scenario my wife and I found ourselves in three times a day until a few months ago.

What he hates ...

Our oldest son’s toothbrushing career got off to such a great start. He even really enjoyed it. But children continue to develop, so his initial joy turned into reluctance. Hesitancy turned into screaming. My wife and I countered this development by distracting him with children’s songs on YouTube. Not particularly educational, but it worked.

After a while, we didn’t want to continue, because the videos distracted him. How is he supposed to develop a feeling for it if he’s not paying attention? We decided to turn the videos into a positive reinforcement, allowing him to watch one clip if he was a good boy and brushed his teeth. It worked, for a while. Until it didn’t work any more. As always with children. What followed were months of struggle, crying and despair. On both sides.

... and what he loves

Then our son finally turned three years old. The cut-off date for the electric toothbrush, which he had been eyeing for a long time. When we brushed our teeth with our sonic toothbrushes, he watched us and was spellbound.

The Sonicare for Kids in use.
The Sonicare for Kids in use.

We ordered the Philips Sonicare for Kids. It has two levels, the weaker one is for kids in our son’s age group. With its design, the sonic toothbrush matches Cars, Paw Patrol and the like. Lots of colours, lots of kitsch – pure sensory overload. It can even be personalised with stickers. Most of the stickers feature a silly cleaning mascot named «Sparkly», who also guides you through the app. Of course, Sparkly comes in a cartoonish style with lots of fur and mainly consists of eyes and head. Arms and legs are mere stumps. This is why you need to help Sparkly clean, too. In the beginning, I’m not a fan at all. And anyway, I never want my son to see this app.

I quickly throw this resolution overboard. When he spots Sparkly on the stickers, he asks me, «What’s that?» He’s already standing on his ladder in the bathroom, toothbrush in hand, ready to brush. After months of shouting and nagging, I give in. I have to reward so much enthusiasm for brushing teeth. I download the app, meanwhile telling him about Sparkly and that he now helps us brush our teeth. «Sparkly» becomes «Bartly» – at three, my son doesn’t understand English, early education isn’t a topic yet. My son falls in love with Bartly.

Gamification works: presents after cleaning motivate.
Gamification works: presents after cleaning motivate.

Long live Bartly

Today, half a year later, that love is still there. This is because Bartly and my son have grown together. Literally. The app features gamification. Brushing teeth is rewarded with food, clothes and spray cans for colouring Bartly. It really is personalisation mania. Level ups are also included – the duration of cleaning grows continuously from one to up to two minutes. So does the level of difficulty. This is a real plus for me as a role-play game fan. And for my son, it’s pure motivation. I don’t know who is happier about the presents that just fall from the sky after brushing: me or my son? Both probably equally. Come on, who hasn’t wanted to put a suction cup on the head of a fluffy football with eyes?

«Bartly» with fancy headgear.
«Bartly» with fancy headgear.

No other motivational tactic has lasted this long. All I have to do is ask, «Shall we see Bartle?» and whoosh, my son whizzes past me into the bathroom. Is the app educational? Hardly. I also don’t know if it makes sense to hand children an electric toothbrush at the age of three. But as long as I don’t have to fight the daily battle of tears and screaming, I’m happy.

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Kevin Hofer
Kevin Hofer

Editor, Zurich

From big data to big brother, Cyborgs to Sci-Fi. All aspects of technology and society fascinate me.

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