We recently received an email from one of our clients grown-ups after a trip to the dentist, which they have allowed us to share (anonymised), so that we can help other children that might also find the dentist challenging.
“Dear Happy Confident Kids
I am hoping you can help me with a situation that arose this week with x and a visit to the dentist.
x is six so due to Covid hasn’t visited the dentist as often as other children may have her age, she has lovely teeth and apart from the usual challenges of getting her to brush her teeth has no known issues. This is the first time of her visiting the dentist in a while and its a new dentist.
So to set the scene… the timing for the dentist wasn’t ideal (lesson learnt for me) as it was after school (hungry, tired and grumpiness) and I also had three other children in tow (two of which were not mine). Typically just on the way to the dentist we had an epic dump of rain so we arrived at the dentist soaked through to our socks and pants; which meant I then needed to get them changed into leotards so we rock up very bedraggled into the dentist. The dentist, who we had never met, appeared not pleased to see us.
We had planned for x to have her teeth checked first as I knew that the build up and watching her sister go before her wouldn’t help. However the dentist had other plans and asked x to go first to show x how it’s done.
So… my eldest went first and happily lay down for her check up, she has a few challenges with her teeth so the inspection took a while and this of course then freaked out my youngest, as there was a lot of poking about with a very pointing looking implement. x starts her signs of getting worried, so we have a cuddle and I try to reassure her. This quickly escalates and we remove ourselves from the room for a few minutes to process the feelings and come back. Eventually after a lot of stress and unhelpful comments from the dentist which included “if you don’t do what I ask you won’t get a sticker” “your sister was a good girl” we managed to get her to stand and open her mouth so the dentist could check her teeth – whoop.
The dentist then wanted to put some special paste on her teeth which was a no go for he. I was happy we had at least been able to check her teeth were ok – the paste could wait for another day. So at this point the dentist told her “she wouldn’t be getting a sticker as she didn’t give them to children who didn’t do exactly what she asked”, this of course triggered her and she was then distraught and ran out of the room crying leaving the rest of us behind and screaming in the corridors. So I then had to negotiate with the dentist to give me a sticker, as a parent of a child who can worry allowing the dentist to even check her teeth was a big step so she had earnt her sticker – eventually she gave in and gave me a sticker. The other children were so supportive of my youngest and also of me standing up to the dentist. The sticker was of course not the one she wanted but we recovered from this quickly and exited the dentist still wet.
So apart from not going back to the same unsympathetic dentist and rocking up with three other children, all wet and hungry… what else could I have done to help my youngest and alleviate her worries so that next time we go it is easier for her.
Mummy of two in Warwickshire.”
This is how we responded:
Firstly it sounds like you did really well in a challenging situation and the fact you are asking for advice shows what a caring parent you are.
Parenting is challenging and sometimes things don’t go to plan and we don’t always have time to practice our responses. Forgiving ourselves and learning from experience is key.
Next time you visit the dentist you will be able to put things in place to make the next visit a much better one for all involved.
Here are a few simple tips to help when you next go to the dentist:
- Recognise that the next visit to the dentist may also be a trigger not only for your child but for yourself, check in with yourself; are you feeling calm about the appointment and giving off calm vibes?
- Visualise yourself going in calmly to the appointment not imagining what could go wrong.
- Be your child’s emotional anchor.
- As you have highlighted schedule time before the appointment so that you can create a calm zone before going to the dentist especially if its after school so your daughter has time to unwind from the day.
- A calm zone can include soft relaxing music if your child finds it helpful or a nice relaxing drink and a snack or a read of their favourite book.
- Use a calm voice and present calm body language before and at the appointment – children tend to mirror adults around them and can easily pick up on stress.
- Pick something to take with them that will help them to feel calm and happy maybe a favourite teddy .
- Play acting events that are coming up in a really positive way can be a game changer. You can use toys and teddies as props to help and add an even more fun and familiar element.
- Some children really appreciate visual aids so you could pop a friendly picture of a dentist on the calendar for them to see.
Some children find it useful to be gently reminded of their schedule so that they feel more in control. You might like to include detail about the schedule and remind them in the days leading up to the appointment. Such as
“I will pick you up from school tomorrow, we will have a drink and a snack, then we will drive to the dentist and then we will come home when you can then have your favourite programme on for a while.”
This way you are mentally helping your daughter to prepare, it is important to then stick to that routine and structure so that she feels safe and knows what to expect.
Let us know how the next visit goes and remember you can always help x to step into her calm bubble (practising this before will help) before she goes in.