Thursday, August 06, 2009


"You are going to have to wean him off of this, you know?"

I looked up, confused, from my position by Jack's feet. We were at the dentist, Jack's second check-up ever. The first one had gone ok. This one wasn't going very well. I was sitting at his feet, holding his hands and coaching him through it.

"What? Wean him off of what?" I said.

"Off of needing you to help him get through these things. He's almost school-aged after all."

Ah yes. Translation- "Your child is anxious because of you. You are hovering and being too overprotective."

I wasn't trying to hover at all. I was trying to help. She was doing it all wrong, and that's why this check up wasn't going as well as the last one. We'd had a different hygienist then, a quieter one that didn't talk and joke constantly and try to pretend the spit sucker was an alligator, one that knew me from our church and was willing to let me help my son get through this. Don't get me wrong, this one was very nice and personable, and with another child she probably would have been great, but she was just too much for Jack.

Jack *is* very anxious in new situations, and he has lots of sensory issues, and if you can imagine that you are the kind of person that is made anxious by unfamiliar sensory experiences, and that you had only been to the dentist once before, and then put yourself in that chair...the sounds of lots of people talking and equipment humming, the metalic/rubbing alcohol smell of the exam room, sitting in an unfamiliar chair that tilts you back and puts you face to face with an unfamiliar person, bright lights shining on you, and then this person wants to *put* things in your *mouth*?

Oh no. No, no, no. It was a set up for big issues, and she was handling it all wrong for Jack. She was trying to distract him, playing silly games, asking him lots of questions about his family,,,these were the worst things to do, they just added to his stimulation and confusion. And the whole "pretending there's an alligator in your mouth" thing just sent him over the top. Jack has no imagination. She might as well have told him she was putting a real alligator in his mouth. He kept grabbing the instruments and pulling them out with a wild-eyed look on his face. That's why I was holding his hands. I wasn't holding him *down*, I was just trying to soothe him and kind of "translate" everything for him..."It's like a loud straw, Jack, it just sucks the water out of your mouth like a straw," I murmured to him. "Yeah, it's like a vacuum!" she said brightly, and I sighed...Jack is afraid of vacuums. It's just a little toothbrush, Jack, it tastes like bubble gum and it makes your teeth all clean," I continued softly. "It's crunchy, isn't it?" she put in, trying to help. "I don't like crunchy toothpaste!" Jack said, alarmed and trying to sit up. The hygienist then insisted that I sit back and let her handle him. *I* was the problem. I sighed and sat back, knowing at that point that the visit was over. I was his lifeline to the familiar. He trusted me, not her, and with me out of the picture there was no way he was going to tolerate this. If she would have at least taken her cues from me and talked more softly, explained things more...I watched as she struggled to talk him into letting her put alligators into his mouth and talked brightly about the prize he would get at the end if he kept his hands by his pockets. I watched as Jack struggled to get his hands to stay down by his pockets, but they kept flitting uncontrollably around his face where that stranger kept putting strange feeling, strange tasting instruments. She decided a sterner attitude was needed and put her face in his eyeline and told him Momma would have to leave the room if he didn't cooperate. "She's yelling at me!" Jack said, alarmed. It scares him when strangers correct him, and the forced eye contact had pushed him over the edge. His eyes welled up. She gave up and said we would need to take him to a pediatric dentist, one who was used to "handling children like him". "But," she warned, "they won't let you go back. They don't let parents go back at all. Research shows it's easier to control the children when their parents aren't there." We left with our free toothbrush in hand. No prize though. Prizes were for children who behaved.

Wasn't *I* used to handling "children like him"? Why was my help rejected and seen as a threat and interference? And why oh why do we feel the need to wean such young children from their parents? He's four years old! Four short years ago he was inside my body and then at my breast! Why are we so bothered when a four year old isn't "independent"? Why is a dentist office, a place scary to many *adults*, the place to learn independence? And why are we so sure that forcing them to be independent is the best way to go? Do we really believe that if we don't force our children to endure such things without the comfort of a parent they will become 35 year old adults that need their mommies to hold their hands? In my experience, independence comes very naturally when children are ready to take it, when they have been nurtured and loved into self-confidence.

I have a lot of short-comings as a parent, I'm the first to admit it, but I am *not* hovering and overprotective. Jack is anxious and nervous because that's who he *is* right now, and it is part of my job at this time to help him navigate the world, to show him that the world is not a scary place, that there are not alligators in your mouth, that crunchy toothpaste doesn't hurt you, and that vacuum cleaners can be trusted.

**an update, several years later. Jack is 9 years old now. We did finally try the dentist again, a pediatric dentist used to handling all kinds of children, including "like him". And they do let me go back. I go back with all my kids, in fact. So there.


entropy said...

I so agree with you that parents are viewed more like baby sitters until the state takes ahold of them in school. How backwards.

On the other side, my daughter freaked out at the dentist when she was six and calmed down when I left the room... maybe just out of fear but it worked.

Anonymous said...

mel...I am soooo with you on this!! My 5 yr old daughter still won't go back to the dental chair. My dentist, who I have known for like 20 yrs., comes into the waiting room to check her teeth. The first time she freaked and wouldn't let him but the second time she was much more open to it. Like Jack, she has sensory issues and ANY new situation pushes her over the edge. I do really need to be with her. I am so glad I homeschool her since I would never get her into a school by herself! I am sure negative comments are made about how *clingy* and *antisocial* she is and it's all our fault for not *getting her out* more and *socializing* her. UUGGHH!! Go with your instincts and if you have to shop around, do so!!

J.C. said...

Not a fun experience overall. Poor little Jack! I once had a dentist who refused to finish treating my 5 year old daughter after giving her a novicain shot. He just told me to look for a pediatric dentist to put her under and let us out. I was so mad, I cried. I am VERY sure this dentist had very little interaction with children!

Maureen said...

My family's dentist is not this way at all. Or anyone in his office. For my 3 year old, he sat in my lap during the visit. And he was allowed to explore each item before it was put in his mouth. Now this dentist did refer my two youngest brothers for a ped. dentist when they were younger, but they had complex issues (i.e. both had root canals (yes pleural) before they were 2 years old). My sister was very shy and my mom went back with her until she told her to stay up front (probably around 9 or 10). Yes, my family has been going to the same dentist for 25+ years...

Charlotte said...

My heart is breaking for you and Jack. Come down here to the dentist. We have an amazing hygienist!!! It's standard policy to have the parents come back with the kids.

Kelly said...

Aww Mel, what a jerk that woman is! I can't believe what she did/said!!!!

You are *absolutely* right - independence is something children gain when they know they can trust the universe around them [which means their parents for the most part], it is NOT something that can be "forced". You know this of course, but I just want to validate that you are *so dead on*.

I have to laugh. All the time now I hear comments about how "wonderful" my children are, how "independent" they are, etc. When they were babies all I heard was how I was "over protective" or how I was "spoiling them", etc.

Funny how that works out... gosh, I'll just shut up now, I'm just babbling because I'm furious that this happened to you and Jack!!!

Kelly said...

Oh,and we also left our first pediatric dentist over an idiot hygenist like the one you had today. She really screwed my oldest up. ARGH!

Mary N said...

Oh this makes me so mad!!! This type of thinking is so backward!!! (Notice all the exclamation points - I am sitting here seething!).

Throwing children into scary situations with no support net doesn't teach them independence or confidence. It teaches them that the world is scary and that they have to fend for themselves by whatever means possible (i.e. screaming, crying, becoming overly passive, etc.).

The other thing that makes me so mad - and this goes so much farther than the insensitive hygienist - is the idea today that parental instincts are not to be trusted. All these experts out there are telling you how to raise your children, and what you can and cannot do, and telling parents to go against their own instincts for the good of their children. Studies have shown that the happiest babies are ones whose parents don't follow any methods, but rather they follow their own instincts according to the situation.

Aimee said...

Oh, I agree!!! Why do others always think they know how to "handle" our children better than we do? I specifically picked a dentist that would let me go back with the kids. I refused to go to one who wouldn't.
And guess what! My son is 11 and goes in there by himself... so me going in with him when he was 4 didn't dilbilitate him or anything!

Erin said...

Poor Jack and poor Momma, too! How awful. I hope you can find a better place to take him next time. Surely there are dentists out there who have staff that understand little kids and especially ones w/ sensory issues!

Anonymous said...

Ive just found your blog & I had to comment.
'Control children;? a 4yr old? They realise these are children not pets?
I had a terrible time at the dentist when I was young & my parents didnt believe me. Work was done that wasnt needed & I was on one occasion slapped hard across the face.
There is no way on earth I would leave my most precious treasure in a big scarey chair without me being there to hold their hand and ensure they understand whats happening. They let me know when theyre old enough to cope by themselves but until then Im there with you holding hands.
There will always be 'them' to tell me Im doing it wrong...babywearing makes them clingy...your still breastfeeding at that age?...theyll never sleep by themselves...dont you think six children is too many?...blah blah blah.
But so long as my kids are happy Im happy to keep doing it my way:)

Khaili Bowen said...

Thanks for directing me to this post. I am teary-eyed reading it. Why don't people realize that WE are the type of people who know exactly how to handle our kids. Independence is a fallacy, people don't want kids to be independent, they want them to do as they are told when they are told by those who tell them to do it. When we try to develop INTERdependent kids we are seen as doing something wrong, but it's this myth of independence that really breeds dependence on all those around them, until they turn 18 and get thrown to the wolves (err world).


Home School Mom: Denise said...

ugh...don't get me started! lol! I get so annoyed by "professional" know-it-alls :( we parents are all so stupid, you know, we don't know anything about handling our children....
Pray about finding a place that will work better with you - or demanding the right hygienist you had, and scheduling only with her (if that's possible), I do that for my older kids still to this day...and my younger ones go farther away to a dentist that is very good with them...and it's very gentle and child oriented...AND they definitely let you in there with your child..
God bless, Denise