6 Strategies to Calm Nervous Children Before their Dentist Appointments
When recalling your own childhood fears about dentistry, it’s easy to understand how and why children are anxious about their visit to the dentist.
This is all the more reason to find and implement calming strategies for kids to help them cope with their visit to a dentist.
Seeing the world through a child’s eyes may perhaps prompt childhood memories of your own; remembering your own experiences can help you get on a child’s level about the potential for anxiety.
Children worry about separation from their parent(s) and being in the presence of a relative stranger. There is also the fear of certain procedures, (such as injections and drilling amongst others).
Children can experience confusion about the necessary physical contact required from a healthcare provider on occasion.
Children’s anxiety can also be heightened by a well-intentioned adult or parent speaking to them about their medical or dental appointments.
This combination of factors alongside other concerns and worries create a ‘perfect-storm’ of sorts, heightening a child’s nervousness and anxiety about a medical or dental visit. Setting them up for a lifetime of confidence relating to their healthcare starts early, and this can be initiated by teaching them calming strategies to use when they feel anxious.
Six calming strategies for children experiencing anxiety about medical and dental appointments
1. Help Them manage their Feelings and Emotions
It’s natural to want to keep fear at arm’s length. Actions and situations perceived as a threat or potentially painful are best avoided – particularly in a child’s mind.
Children aren’t able to handle fear, anxiety or anything they believe to be harmful in the same way adults do. It is therefore best to help them accept fear as a normal reaction rather than giving the impression that it’s not real or acceptable; allow them to express their feelings about the approaching appointment or present situation.
Affirm your confidence in them but don’t “sugar-coat” their upcoming experience; ask questions without fuelling anxiety. Asking ‘How are you feeling about visiting the doctor / dentist?’ is a much better question than ‘Are you nervous about visiting the doctor / dentist?’
2. Lift (Rather than Lower) Their Expectations with Advanced Preparation
A brief explanation about what it’s like to visit the doctor / dentist helps frame a satisfying experience for a child and their family. It’s important that you avoid creating unrealistic scenarios that lowers their expectations to a negative level.
For example, promising that a medical or dental visit is ‘no-big-deal’ or that it ‘won’t be painful’ are promises that might be easily broken – and with it their trust.
Be sure to reward their bravery after an appointment in a way that is meaningful to them.
3. Maintain Consistency with a Trusted Dentist
Over time a child who sees the same professional will begin to build a rapport with that person and start to trust them. It is also important to make sure your own trust in your chosen doctor / dentist is evident to your child.
4. Use At-Home Role Play
Many kids play ‘Doctor’ on occasion. Role-play scenarios can help take the edge off of upcoming dental appointments. Use play instruments to listen to your child’s heart, look into their ears, check their teeth, etc. Encourage your child to give a doll or toy a check-up’.
Playful routines can normalise what might be an anxiety-producing experience.
5. Help Your Dentist Find Common Ground with Your Child
Equip your care-provider as much information about your child as possible; what they enjoy doing, and playing with, what they like watching on TV, the sports they’re involved in, their hobbies, favourite foods/snacks, etc.
This information provides an opportunity to lighten the mood and establish a friendly relationship between the healthcare professional and your child during their first and therefore subsequent appointments.
6. Embody Calm and Patience Yourself
Remember that anxiety or fear can be contagious however the opposite is also true; if you’re cool, calm and collected it’s more likely that your child will be too and mirror your behaviour.
Set a positive mood for their approaching medical or dental appointment. Do not let your child recognise any fear or anxiety you may personally experience associated with the appointment. Help your child relax with breathing techniques and provide them with reassurance to help take their mind off their fear or anxiety.
Remember some emotion is normal (e.g. crying, etc) and that it will take time and acclimatisation to build your child’s trust with their doctor / dentist.
Calming strategies for kids are supported by an equally calming environment that helps them overcome anxiety and ensures a positive experience with their care providers – this is what we strive for at Happy Kids Dental clinics.