Helping your child overcome fear

helping your child overcome fearI took my four-year-old daughter to her semi-annual dental check up yesterday. She’s seen her dentist since she was 18 months old. I figured starting her with regular dental visits at a really young age would prevent her from developing the fear I had as a child when going to the dentist. And although she’s never once been scared, complained or done anything other than hop up on her dentist’s table and sweetly opened her mouth to display her pearly whites for him, yesterday she freaked. As in FREAKED THE HECK OUT. She clung desperately to me and shrieked with terrified, bulging, bloodshot eyes while clawing at me to try to get away. I have no idea where her fear came from but it was huge, it was real and it filled the entire room with the wrath of a tiny child’s worst nightmare.

I wanted to whisk her away. No parent wants to see their child fraught with emotional anguish. What my daughter was experiencing, real or imagined, was truly, unbelievably horrific. But I knew that if I let her give in to this fear, it would always be there. Future (peaceful) trips to the dentist hung in the balance and I had to find a way to be strong enough for both of us so I could calm her down. 

In the end I had to hold her arms down while the dentist harmlessly inspected her teeth. Tears streamed down my face too because it felt, on some level, like a betrayal, but I hid them by whispering into her ear that this wasn’t scary and I was incredibly proud of how brave she was. In the end I knew that what seemed like a terribly bad, scary thing to her was actually very good for her. Obviously preventative dental care is a whole lot easier for any of us to deal with then having painful rotting teeth or getting cavities filled. Amazingly enough, after only a minute of laying on the table, once her worst fears weren’t realized, she she stopped flailing and screaming and she even smiled and joked with the dentist.

It was touch and go there for a few crucial seconds but I somehow saw her through her fear. I pulled myself together. I didn’t give up. And now she’s even excited about her next dental check up in six months which is really great. I’m sure she and her father will have a lovely time visiting the dentist together.

[photo credit: SXC]

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