I took the kids to the dentist yesterday. A pediatric dentist. Let me give you a little background. When we first took PinkGirl to the dentist, it didn’t go well. I couldn’t fit into the tiny room to be with her and, while SHE was perfectly silent, the hygienist repeatedly said, “sit still” and “open your mouth” with all the compassion and verbal expression of a rock. I couldn’t see anything and I didn’t know what was going on other than the fact that she wasn’t being still enough and that her mouth wasn’t open wide enough.
When she was done, PinkGirl came out into the waiting room, buried her face in my hip and cried silently. We never went back.
I found a pediatric dentist and, while the first visit was difficult because she had to overcome her fear, she left smiling, with a sticker, a colorful pencil, a balloon, a pink toothbrush and a bag of other dental “prizes.” We’ve been going to the pediatric dentist for a few years now. The chairs are set up in one big room, parallel to each other and there is a long bench along the wall, at the foot of the chairs, for parents to sit. So I can sit right there, in front of my kids while they have their teeth cleaned.
Yesterday, 7 year old PinkGirl bopped right in and sat down in the chair, smiling. She’s not afraid of the dentist. The hygienist approached her and, speaking very sweetly, said she needed to take pictures of her teeth. This would be the first time. They tried to do it last time, but the film physically wouldn’t fit into PinkGirl’s mouth. She whispered to me, “Is it going to hurt?” I said, “It doesn’t hurt, it’s just not very comfortable to hold the the film in your mouth.” The hygienist took her time, chatting with the other hygienists along the way, but finally, the xrays were done. I saw PinkGirl’s shoulders drop with relief that it was over. Then the hygienist said, “See? Wasn’t that EASY?”
That’s not a real question. That’s called a “counterfeit question.” What possible response was PinkGirl going to give? There was no wiggle room. Although devoid of enthusiasm, she gave the expected answer: “yes.”
Tangent. I HATE that. I HATE it when someone asks a child that question when the child has clearly just overcome a challenge. It devalues both their effort and their fear. I especially hate to hear it in swim class, when a child has FINALLY done something they’ve been working on for a while. okay. I’m done. for now.
PinkGirl comes straight to me for a hug. I know that was hard. That’s a tiny mouth for that big piece of hard cardboard. I said, “That was so brave! I know that was difficult, but you did a really good job! I’m so proud of you!” I get eye contact and another hug. She knows I know.
The hygienist starts cleaning PinkGirl’s teeth and after only a few minutes I see it. Her toes are pointing straight up, her heels are pressed down, her legs are stiff as a board, her hands are clenched, she’s breathing fast and her eyes are WIDE open. The hygienist casually asks, “You doing okay?” to which PinkGirl respectfully replies, “mmm hmmm.” The hygienist continues for about another 30 seconds and I get up, walk around to her, lean in and say, “PinkGirl will never tell you she’s uncomfortable. She will always agree with you that she’s okay.” The hygienist says okay and I wonder if she gets it.
Clearly. She does not.
I say, “I think we need a break.”
“PinkGirl seems a little stressed.”
Then. Head back, eyebrows in a frown. Defensive posture.
“So what do you want me to do about it? SHE says she’s fine.”
I say, “OH NO YOU DI ENT!” (to myself)
In real life, I say, “You’re going to have to trust me on this. She needs a break.”
So hygienist gets up in a huff (I really think she huffed) and walks over to the central desk to pretend she wasn’t talking about me to the other hygienists. (She stunk at it.)
The dentist comes, examines PinkGirl and they laugh. PinkGirl is happy. Relaxed. Unafraid. Then the hygienist comes back and with a “tude” in her voice, asks, “So do you want me to finish her cleaning?”
While PinkGirl pleads “no” and clings to me, I peel her off, gently set her in the chair and say, “I think we should talk a minute first.” The hygienist is standing there, hands on her hips. I’m thinking she’s slightly defensive.
I say, “It seems like you’re a little defensive. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I’d like to explain what happened, if you’ll give me another chance.” (I cannot write what I was saying “to myself,” but trust me when I tell you it wasn’t anything close to this appropriate, textbook approach. I taught college level communication for 7 years, and when I’m not upset, I can apply communication theory to real life situations fairly well. When I’m not upset. Keep in mind, I had a few minutes to cool down and rehearse while the dentist examined PinkGirl.)
The hygienist’s shoulders drop the defensive posture and she says okay.
I go straight for the step 4 of my conflict resolution model (one day I’ll post it) – state the undisputed facts:
“Her toes were pointing straight up, her heels were pressed down, her legs were stiff as a board, her hands were clenched, she was breathing fast and her eyes were WIDE open. She was showing physical signs of stress. When we first came to Dr. KidDentist, PinkGirl was very afraid, but you guys turned that around. Every visit here has been positive. Until today. We can’t go backwards now.”
Without any “tude” she asks, “What do you want me to do differently?”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t paid close attention in the past because PinkGirl never had any problem. I don’t what might be different today.” (thinking to myself – “I don’t know what you are doing wrong.”)
“Would you like me to get another hygienist to finish the cleaning?”
“Can you tell from her record, who might have done her cleanings in the past?”
Long story short. Another hygienist finished the cleaning.
PinkGirl’s feet were limp the entire time.
And she’s confident that her mom championed her. I think she’ll remember. Especially when she’s a mom herself.