New experiences can be intimidating for young children. The dentist is no exception. The dentist’s office is a new place that presents your child with variables they aren’t comfortable with yet.
Unfortunately, children sometimes have difficulty expressing their discomfort. Their anxiety might not be presenting itself in a way that you can recognize.
A lot of young children are scared of the dentist at first. As a parent, you want to help your child overcome their anxiety. But it’s hard to do that if you don’t know what it looks like.
Keep reading for seven signs that your child may be nervous about going to the dentist.
1. They Get Random Stomachaches
Physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches are often a sign of stress. Even if your child is not in pain, they may not know how to communicate to you that they are nervous. It is easier for them to complain of physical pain.
When your child complains of stomach pain, you should always take it seriously. Even if what’s really going on is anxiety about visiting the dentist, it doesn’t make their feelings any less real.
As a parent, you should track when they get stomachaches for no apparent reason. Is it always right before school? Is it always on the way to a doctor or dentist appointment?
If it’s the latter, your child is afraid of the dentist.
2. They Throw a Tantrum
Many people think that crying and tantrums are only symptomatic of one thing: bad behavior. In fact, a lot of children cry when they are nervous.
If you think your child is throwing a tantrum because they are nervous, you should talk to them about why going to the dentist is a good thing. If they see you talk about the subject in a way that is positive and encouraging, their feelings may soften. After all, you are their role model.
3. They Can’t Focus
For small children, anxiety can make it hard to focus. If your child is seemingly scattered or inattentive, they may just be nervous about their impending dentist appointment.
When this is the case, it sometimes helps to engage in play. Instead of playing “doctor,” play “dentist.” A fun game can reel your child’s attention back in and can soothe their nerves about the dentist.
Making the dental experience fun is the first step toward helping your child feel more comfortable.
4. They Don’t Want to Go
Sometimes your child will flat out tell you: they don’t want to go to the dentist. But often, they don’t tell you it’s because they are nervous. Instead, they blame it on a whole host of other things.
If this is the case with your child, consider trying to time your dentist visits strategically. That way, your child will be more optimistic about trying new things. Choose an appointment time for when grandma is in town, or after a fun day at the beach.
This will help them to see that there’s really nothing to be scared of after all.
5. They Adopt a Nervous Habit
Sometimes, your child won’t give any verbal indicators that they are nervous. But if they adopt a physical nervous tic, you know that something is up. Examples of ways that your child might physically show their nervous energy are:
- biting their nails
- shaking their leg
- picking at scabs
- playing with hair
- playing with strings attached to clothing
- touching the ear obsessively
If you notice your child doing any of these things, they may be nervous about their visit to the dentist. The best thing to do in this situation is simply to ask them how they are feeling.
Opening up the subject will help them share with you what they think about going to the dentist. It will also establish a pattern for your child of being able to share their feelings.
6. Sleep Troubles
If your child knows that they have a dentist appointment coming up, they may have difficulty sleeping. Symptoms of this may manifest differently.
For one, it could just be that your child cannot sleep. If your child seems restless or tired in the days leading up to their appointment, ask them why.
But it can also mean that your child has bad dreams or nightmares. If your child is scared of going to the dentist, they may complain of bad dreams more than usual right before an appointment.
Finally, your child may start wetting the bed. This is not an uncommon nervous reaction for children.
In some cases, your child has already been potty-trained and hasn’t had problems with bed-wetting in a while. If this problem re-emerges right before a dentist appointment, you know what is going on.
7.They Become Clingy
You are your child’s protector. It is with you that they feel the safest. This is why even the most outgoing child will hang close to their parent when they feel nervous.
If you notice that your child has become your second shadow, it may be time to ask them what’s going on.
If this clinginess persists, it may help to find a dentist that specializes in pediatric dentistry. They can help you walk your child through the process.
They Won’t Be Scared of the Dentist Forever
If your child is scared of the dentist, it can be difficult to know what to do about it. But the first step is to know how to identify those feelings of anxiety and nervousness.
If you’ve realized that your child is scared of the dentist and want to help them overcome those fears, click here to learn some helpful tips and strategies. And remember, your child won’t be afraid of the dentist forever.