I took my 4-year-old to the dentist for the first time a couple weeks ago.
It didn’t go so well. And that’s putting it mildly.
Despite talking it up (You’ll probably get a brand new toothbrush!) and reading books about it, she freaked out. She screamed. She kicked. She thrashed. She ran away.
I was horrified, embarrassed, angry and upset. But one thing I was not was surprised.
She’s had a fear of people in white coats since she was old enough to recognize what was going on. She’s the one you hear screaming in doctors’ offices – at the scale, when it’s time to weigh in. I’ve had to physically restrain her – my legs wrapped around her little body, my arms around hers, my chin pinning her head to my chest – just so a doctor could look into her ears.
When it happens, I feel like all eyes are on me. What have you done, Mom, to make her behave this way?
And the answer is, I really don’t know, but I do feel like I’m to blame. She’s not exactly spoiled. There are rules and consequences in my house. But somewhere along the way, I must have done something.
I tried to psychoanalyze (read: find something to make it not my fault) and I’ve come up with a couple of things.
One, a history of bad hospital experiences. Just days after being born, my daughter was back in the hospital where she was placed in an incubator under bright lights to be treated for jaundice. Then, when she was nine months old, she spent several days in the hospital for a very high, unexplained fever. She was pricked and poked a million times. I don’t know who cried louder – her or me. Could she possibly remember any of that?
Two, her father died of cancer when she was three. The last six months of his life he was in and out of the hospital numerous times. I took her to visit on occasion. Could she possibly associate the medical profession with his loss?
Or, maybe it is me. Maybe I let her get away with too much. Maybe I baby her. Maybe I don’t do a good enough job of explaining what is going to happen or what is expected.
Or maybe she is just genuinely frightened.
So my questions for the mommies out there:
Am I the only one who has a screaming kid at the doctor’s (and now dentist’s) office?
Is it my fault?
What can I do to make it better for her – and me?