One of the hardest things about raising kids is how inexperienced they are. They haven’t lived long enough to learn that if you don’t take a bath for days, you really will stink and your butt will begin to itch, and they don’t really believe you when you tell them their teeth will fall out if they don’t brush. (On the other hand they very easily believe in things like tooth-carrying, flying fairies. Go figure.)
Sometimes, you have to scare a child straight.
My son, Javier, happily eats just about anything I give him, but his favorite thing in the world is sweets. Since he’s far from a picky eater, I’ve always let him indulge. The problem is that tooth-brushing has been a battle for years, not because he doesn’t brush, but because he doesn’t always brush right, nor for long enough, and I just haven’t stopped buying cookies.
A recent visit to the dentist revealed he has three cavities, and he will need to be sedated in order for the doctor to take care of them. He will be forced to experience his worst nightmare, getting a shot, and be put to sleep in order for them to be able to stretch his mouth and repair his teeth.
He’s also been banned from having sweets. After much back and forth between myself and the dentist, he finally agreed that he could have sweets once in a while, but he must brush immediately afterward. I felt empathy for my cupcake lover, but I also want him to be healthy. I know this is a change we’re going to have to make.
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Javier overheard the entire conversation.
I thought this would devastate my sugar fiend, but when we got home, I was shocked not to get any requests for dessert after dinner. When it came time to go to bed, I found him in the bathroom with a lineup of dental products on the bathroom counter. First he brushed with a new toothbrush as the sands in the hourglass the dentist gave him poured down. Next he flossed as best as his clumsy eight-year-old hands could, and finally he rinsed.
Neither one of us had to say a thing. The fear in his eyes did all the talking.
My son has been scared straight into dental hygiene, and I’m thrilled. Sometimes a kid has to fall off his bike in order to learn not to pop wheelies. Not enough to send him to the ER with a broken bone, but enough to merit a memorable scrape.
As parents we’re always trying to teach our kids lessons, but often experience can do a much better job.