While this story starts with a crying six-year-old and an annoyed mum who was “displeased” — to say the least — about dad’s honest comments on their son’s tooth decay (and potential pain at a dentist’s office), it finds its turn in a highly sophisticated plan that was sneakily implemented with the help of dad’s dentist…
“Boy! If you do not behave yourself well right now, we will not go to see the dentist tomorrow, and you neither will get a pain shot!” — Period!
I’d have to admit that this was a spontaneous threat. Nevertheless, it was one that not just made my day, but the weeks ahead, particularly since two months before, this very child snitched his dad for telling him that it potentially may hurt a very tiny minuscule little bit when a dentist needs to do their job. The child was crying. Mum was displeased. Yet, our son had visible tooth decay, and something had to be done about this!
Taking matters into my hands
However, I did not necessarily consider myself the person in charge (otherwise, I would have probably taken our son to the dentist immediately — and spared any well-intended “horror stories”). Not that I didn’t want to, but it seemed unpractical since my son lived around 120 miles away from me then. I saw him every other weekend — and that’s not rush hour in regular dentists’ practices. (To prevent any discussion: His mum wasn’t working back then, so she may have had the time to see a dentist with him.)
On the other hand, I never neglected my responsibility and thus agreed to take matters into my own hands, i.e., to take a few days off from work and find a way to treat our son.
There was just one problem: I did not want to go to any dentist whatsoever with a crying and fearful child!
Lucky me, I know few things about marketing and child education, and back then, I had already gained some basic understanding of my son’s psyche based on six years of field research. Hence, why not make a dentist appointment the most significant thing ever? Similar to Christmas or his last birthday party. Just without presents, cake, snow, family feast, grandmother and grandfather, vacation… — I mean, he was six years old. So, what could go wrong? See!?
The marketing plan
My idea was relatively straightforward: Since I had to see the dentist for myself as well (I had some tooth decay myself), I would ask her whether I could get an appointment for him right afterward. She regularly saw kids, and my son and I could go together. That appointment, however, would be solely diagnostic, and whatever black spots called for treatment would get done sometime later.
No sooner said than done!
Yet, there was just one more thing: The dentist appointment needed to be turned into something special (i.e., speak highly of it, limit availability, restrict access — do those things that make any marketing campaign successful)!
Some unexpected help
Indeed, it also helped that around that time, a popular children’s series was airing an episode on dentistry (today, you’d find these easily on YouTube), so I “randomly” watched it with my son about two weeks before his first appointment.
Still, he didn’t know he would have one because when I picked him up his next dad weekend (one day earlier than usual), I only told him I had to see the dentist. Nevertheless, if he is fortunate, there may be a tiny chance that he can also sit in the dentist’s chair for a moment. (Not to think of having the dentist check on him, either!)
Six-year-olds love ideas like that! Mainly since I told him the entire car ride how excellent dentistry was, how great jobs dentists do, and how much I appreciate that I’ll get my teeth finally fixed tomorrow, and so on. Two hours of non-stop straight advertising!
Seeing the dentist
The next day, when we arrived at my dentist’s, I took her aside to clarify that whatever anesthetics may be needed for my treatment, I wanted her to give slightly more so I would not have the slightest pain. (The worst thing that could happen at this point was my son seeing me in pain!)
And it went great! She was doing her job and explained everything in detail, and my son looked curiously into my mouth from some distance. He was happy, and so was I.
And guess what! After my treatment, he made it into the dentist’s chair. — What a lucky child he was!
On top of that, my dentist coincidentally also had some spare time to check on him. — Boy, did she make this child’s day!
(Screw the three hours when I felt half my face was paralyzed. The plan worked out, and my marketer’s ego reached previously unknown heights. Period!)
Back at the dentist: Things got real
Two weeks later, we were back again. As part of the plan, my dentist — sorry, his dentist! — focused on a few minor issues that guaranteed him to be free of trouble. So I thought!
He, however, complained that he didn’t get injected! He had no pain whatsoever, but since dad got a pain shot, he also wanted one!
Did my attempts go slightly overboard?!
Be that as it may, I promised he would have one the next time (the other teeth were more damaged anyway) and focused on how great it was that he still had something he could look forward to!
(Another ingenious marketing strategy in raising a child! It’s applicable in all those situations when you don’t want your child to have something immediately but don’t worry about providing it later. — “Isn’t it great to have something to look forward to?!” — Don’t accept “No!” for an answer; instead, work on your Marketing 101!)
Discovering new terrain
And then, my great day came!
Two weeks later, I picked up to take him with me for the weekend again. Again a day early, and again with a dentist appointment the next day.
Yet, this time with a little too much excitement for my calm mind. If it had been only about his anticipation of the appointment the next day, OK, but whether it was too much sugar or simply a stressful “working day” at kindergarten, I don’t know. He was nuts. And so he behaved.
Thus, with all due respect, that Thursday evening around 7:40 pm (a children’s TV series was about to start), I spoke the magic words:
“Boy! If you do not behave yourself well right now, we will not go to see the dentist tomorrow, and you neither will get a pain shot!”
And the child was behaving! It took a bit out of him, but it worked.
Yet, not only did that work on his behavior but also mine; it was as if my body raised the corners of my mouth effortlessly all night. My mood improved, my day was made, and my ego increased: This child, crying less than two months earlier in front of his mum, now loved the prospect of dental treatments.
Well done, sneaky dad!
Dentistry, the third
The appointment the following day went according to expectations. My son got his pain shot, my dentist (sorry: his!) called her “best child patient she had ever had in her entire career,” and I got a child with great milky teeth! Boom! A win-win-win situation, I’d say.
There were a few more treatments to follow this one, yet none with any issues. Though, after one dental treatment, my son mentioned that he had had some pain; he also said that he doesn’t understand why some people fuss about it. For him, it was not troublesome at all.
Of course, this view of a six-year-old is not comprehensive. Still, it shows that a positive appraisal of dentistry and dental treatments can make all the difference in children’s perception and, thus, their reality.
Today, my son is 15 years of age. Years later, he needed brackets, so many dental treatments followed. Though he never got as excited again about seeing his dentist, it’s something very ordinary for him now and a fearless job.
You may want to argue that I have manipulated my son — and you’re right about this. Yet, all parenting is manipulative, and since some experiences are inevitable, best-interest “manipulations” should be inevitable, either.
That said, reframe something that is somewhat negative positively! Apply whatever you have learned about marketing! In regards to dentistry, for some, this may include facing their fears first, but even if that’s not immediately possible, try to find ways around it and maybe find relatives to take your child’s dental matters into their hands.
Nevertheless, build on your strengths, and guide your child through this world to the best of your intentions! It will be to your child’s and your advantage short-term and long-term.
To add another example: When our son was eight months old, he got into daycare. Though his mum and I had our troubles with that idea, given the different way we both were raised, we never mentioned any negative word about this to him. Instead, in the weeks before, we always highlighted how great it would be for him to play with other children, make friends, and learn from them.
And that it was!
From day one, he integrated well into his group. Immediately after they had entered the nursery, his mum (who was joining him the first days) was too dull to be attended to any longer. He quickly made friends, and he learned immensely from them!
In contrast, the 12-month-old girl sent to daycare with him always cried. Of course, I don’t know the exact reason and such reasons are manifold, but I can assure you that possible statements such as “Don’t worry, it’s only for mornings” or “Mummy will be back soon” do not reassure any child. So, these are better to be avoided!
After all, no matter how hard that may be for some parents, the more they focus on the advantages of any situation, the more their child will be sold on these.
Anyway, I hope my story has nourished your thinking and planted a seed regarding your general take on parenting and dentistry in particular!
Your situation will be (much) different from mine. Nevertheless, if you can find your approach and make your child’s life (and thus your own) happier and more positive, that’s all I could have asked for.
Good luck! And always enjoy seeing your child grow along the way.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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