Dentists: 5 Tried-and-True Tips for Taming Terrified Children
You’ve seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” right? That shower scream is iconic. As a dentist you’re accustomed to working with great patients, every now and again, there’s a small child or two who responds to a routine cleaning like they’ve just been attacked during bath time.
There’s a reason for this, though—it’s called “dental anxiety.” And while you probably only think about it in your adult populations, as many as 19.5% of young children are petrified of you and your toolkit of perceived torture devices. Admit it—they’re kind of creepy-looking …
As such, they’ll scream, cry, kick and wail—enough to have you wishing you were on the receiving end of a Norman Bates knife. Tired of trying to keep your cool, while taming terrified children? No worries—when followed, the below five steps are guaranteed to help:
1) Keep Things Loose
If a child is noticeably anxious, try doing your best to help them relax. Sure, laughing gas is a dentist’s greatest elixir, but try performing a few breathing exercises with them. Have them pretend they are blowing bubbles from a bubble wand, the familiar visual paired with breathing deeply will help them relax.
2) Distractions Can Help
No, you didn’t spend years at dental school to get into the business of deceiving children, but distractions can sometimes be a godsend. When appropriate, consider using handheld toys, pleasant conversation and visuals to divert attention from the pain you’re about to inflict—jokes.
3) Provide Plenty of Information
Children don’t do well with surprises. Instead of assuming a 4-year-old knows how to behave in the chair, give them as much information as possible as to what they’ll see, hear and feel when working with you. And one more thing—keep your explanations as simple and friendly as possible.
4) Positive Reinforcement Is a Must
In your office, use small, tangible rewards as a way of praising brave behavior. Whether they’re stickers, fake tattoos (real ones are expensive) or baseball cards, show a child that you’re proud of them for doing hard things. Couple each reward with words of praise for increased efficiency.
5) When Necessary, Involve the Parents
The only thing more horrifying than going to the dentists’ office? Having an angry parent on hand to make things that much more death-inducing. But in all seriousness, children look to their parents as role models. Should the situation call for it, allow for a parent to be present.
Wrapping Things Up
We’ve said our piece, and now it’s time for you to say yours—in the comments section below, feel free to share a tip or two for things you’ve done to keep nervous children calm, cool and collected while undergoing treatment.