From my perch a safe two feet outside the room, out of reach of fetus endangering nitrous gas I wondered what she was talking about. Did she need to know in case Little vomited? Was she going to need general anesthetic? I hadn't approved that had I?
"Uh, muesli." I said.
"Oh no, I think you gave her something else. She is so good. I have never had a patient this good. She's staying so still. We will have to give her lots of stickers when we're finished. I didn't think she would do this well."
OH! She's joking. Phew. We were in there to get a filling that may be too close to a nerve and result in a baby root canal and cap so you'll understand why I was nervous. (She didn't need the root canal after all. It was a cavity they spotted almost a year ago but waited until now to work on because she was too little to sit still before.) The silent office, normally bustling, was testament to the dentist's nervousness at the response of one so young. Little was her only patient right now. She had expected some difficulty. She wanted to knock her out for the procedure but we thought it too risky.
"When I figure out the secret I'll let you know," I told her.
"You should write a book about it if you figure it out," she said. "All your kids are so good."
Now, by good, she obviously means they sit still in the chair without crying or screaming. I didn't believe her at first. When the Boy was in there the first time she came out after, removed her mask and said, "He did so well. He was really good."
I responded, "Well, you have shows for them to watch, and prizes after, and you don't let them see all the sharp implements you are sticking in their mouth, and you talk them through it and you give them fruit scented nitrous to help them relax. How could they be anything but good?"
I think the staff at our dentist's office are really excellent at what they do.
"Oh, you'd be surprised." she responded. "Trust me, most kids are not so easy to work with."
Several check ups later and I began to understand what she meant. I heard many children screaming in the chair during a routine check up. There is a lot of crying that goes on behind that waiting room door.
The morning I took in Little a girl just a bit older than her threw a fit during a routine checkup. They waited to take Little back until she was gone because they didn't want her to get upset before they started work.
So, I've been giving it some thought. Is there something that we do that makes the dentist easier for our kids, with their different personalities and ages?
Here are my guesses.
- It starts with good parenting. By that I mean, it starts with having a relationship with your children that teaches them they can trust you. It means teaching children to obey and have self control. It means that they know that we always do things with their best interests in mind. It means that we talk to them and teach them and help to understand as much as they can given their age. Basic, really.
- We don't project our feelings onto our kids. Even if I am fearful of the work my child is getting done they will never know it. I project confidence that they will be fine, both in what is being done to them and how they will behave. I am always calm and reassuring in the office, explaining and anticipating to keep them from feeling nervous. (The staff are excellent at this too, so it's easy for me.)
- We prepare them in advance for what will happen, and I tell them what is expected of them. On the way to the dentist last week Little asked from the back seat, "Where are we going again mommy?" "To the dentist." I replied. "Oh, why do I haf to go back der." "Because you have a hole in your tooth. It doesn't hurt now but if we leave it it may hurt a lot so the dentist is going to clean it and then fill up the hole so that it won't hurt you. She's going to be very careful to do a good job, so it will take a while. You will have to stay very still while she works on your mouth. But you will get to watch a show while she is working to help you stay still. So you will be able to do it, because you're a big girl now." "I will mommy, I will stay vewy still for the dentist to work on me." That was the last of several similar conversations. Every time she asked I answered with confidence and as much information as I thought she needed.
- We don't ever mention needles, or fear, or drills. They have no idea what actually happens in their mouth, and they trust us enough that they are content with what we do tell them. Fear isn't really an option we allow them. Homeschooling gives us an advantage in this area. They avoid schoolyard horror stories. Should it ever come up I will tell them that it has already happened to them and they were fine, so there's nothing to fear.
- We really praise them for doing a good job after. "You sat so still! You really helped the dentist to do her job by staying still for her! Good job!"
What do you think?