Today I took my seven-year old twin boys to the dentist we’ve been seeing since they were a year old. I was relaxed about the visit. Because it’s a pediatric office, they’re equipped with TV screens, headphones, and lots of other distractions to handle the standard level of anxiety that most kids have during a visit. I’ve never told the dentist that my boys suffer from Sensory Processing Disorder and anxiety. I’ve been trying not to label them because they’ve improved so much in the last couple years…except for here and there.
Photo by theloushe on flickr
When my boys were three and four-years old, they would get so upset that I felt like I had post-traumatic stress after each visit, so I swallowed the guilt and only took them once a year. Now that they’re older, they haven’t had more than a few tears at each visit so I was doing the happy dance that we were beyond dental-related anxiety.
Tristan said as he climbed out of the car this morning, “Mom, I’m feeling anxious. I think I’m going to tell them that.” I was so proud that he verbalized his feelings that I almost cried. I encouraged him to tell them and asked if he wanted me to come in to the room with him. “Definitely,” was all he said before running off to play with the waiting-room toys.
I tried to stay calm in my body and mind. They say that some kids are sensitive to their parent’s feelings like a dog that smells fear. Maybe if I stayed calm, they would too?
As we waited, I overheard the receptionist explain to a dad their office’s “no parents” policy for any procedure other than a standard check-up. “Most kids do better when the parents aren’t in the room.” She went on to explain that they also want parents to wait in the lobby for anyone over eight-years old. My internal siren started to roll slowly.
For my kids, she might be right. They probably are more prone to cry and freak out if I’m standing right there to make them feel safe and comfortable. But the idea that the office has in place a blanket policy that bans parents got my hackles up.
I’ve always wanted to be in the room for my boys check-ups. I like hearing what the dentist says to them, asking questions as we go. To me, my children’s health care should be an interactive experience.
When they called in Will, who said nothing about feeling anxious, he ran in, never looking back. So I stayed in the waiting room. I thought, let’s try out this “no parents” policy and see what happens. Fifteen minutes later they called in Tristan, who grabbed my hand, and immediately told the hygienist about his anxiety. Thankfully, she sounded sympathetic and took him right in.
As we walked past Will, lying back in the chair, I could see that he was crying, he had his legs drawn up to his chest, and he was moaning. I stepped into the room to find that he didn’t like the taste or feeling of the fluoride coating they’d painted onto his teeth. A minor issue, but his reaction was escalating. I tried to keep quiet and listen. The hygienist finished quickly and told him he was done but he was not calming down. I knew that all he needed was some deep pressure and comfort and his anxiety and oral sensitivity would subside in a few minutes. So I pulled up a chair to give him what he needed, the whole time listening to what the hygienist was saying.
“Will, you’re over reacting. It’s not that big of a deal….Don’t be silly, its raspberry flavor….You’re making way too big a deal of this…You’re making way too much noise for what this is.” The more she talked, the louder he got, tears running down his face, drool hanging from his chin, and the more agitated I became.
That’s when I interrupted her.
“You don’t understand his disorder, so please stop your comments now,” I said in a calm, low voice. Then I went back to squeezing Will’s shoulders (deep pressure) and made him look me in the eyes to deep breathe through his panic. Within a minute he started swallowing again and within another he was clinging but calm.
But I wasn’t. I was on the verge of tears. I felt exasperated, defensive, and embarrassed that I didn’t handle the situation better.
We walked into the room with Tristan, who was having no trouble at all, and I explained to the dentist that it was probably time to put a note in the boy’s charts about their anxiety and sensitivity. He was understanding and said that he would talk to his hygienist about making her comments more positive.
I don’t want to change dentists, but I drove away wondering if they were the right fit for us. Are their policies too rigid for us? Would anyone else in town have more experience with special needs? Was I wrong to correct the hygienist? Am I the real problem?
I realized that I assumed that hygienists would be trained in how to deal with real anxiety, not just the standard amount that most kids experience. But are they? If I found an article for the hygienists and sent it to them, would they be open to the education, or would they just think I’m some crazy, critical, hover mom who can’t let her boys grow up?
How have you, as a parent, dealt with professionals regarding your child’s specific issues and needs? Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments.