"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.