When you take your child to the playground, you don’t tell them ‘it might hurt’.
That’s what Jane, my dental hygienist, said.
At a recent checkup, we started talking about why so many children hate going to the dentist. They squirm and scream, and throw temper tantrums over something as painless as getting their teeth cleaned. It doesn’t make sense when you think about. Very few kids have been harmed sitting in a dental chair. So their angst can’t be based on past experience. Especially kids who’ve never been to the dentist. What could they possibly base their fear on?
Jane believes much of the blame falls on parents. She mentioned how often she’s heard parents say something like, “Okay Joey, now this might hurt,” or “Don’t worry Lucy, you’ll be done in no time.” Now, if a child has never been to the dentist before, their expectations are limited to what they’ve been told. So when they’re told it might ‘hurt’ or it may be an unpleasant experience, that’s what they gear up for. Cue the anxiety and tears.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Certainly many, many more children get hurt at playgrounds each year than in dental chairs. And yet, as Jane said,
“When you take your child to the playground, you don’t tell them it might hurt.”
So why say it at the dentist’s office? Rather than treat it like an ordeal, why not treat it like a trip to the science museum? Play to your child’s natural curiosity. Let that shape their experience.
Framing matters. And not just at the dentist’s office. In school (math doesn’t have to be boring), at the dinner table (vegetables don’t have to be icky), in relationships, and many other areas of life. Recognize the power of framing, and use it to your advantage.