Whether it’s their first or their tenth trip to the dentist, kids can often be attacked with a case of the jitters when it’s time to walk into that office. To help them understand that going to the dentist and taking care of their oral health is a good thing that they should do all their lives, one helpful thing to do is to reward this positive behavior. A reward reinforces to your children that the dentist’s office is a place they want to go.
But first a couple of caveats. The first caveat is that if you make the reward about “surviving” the dentist, then you may actually be cementing their fears and encourage those fears to reappear the next time. Instead of making the reward about getting through a potentially scary ordeal, make it about celebrating the fact that they made a positive choice in their lives. This helps subdue and, eventually, reduce any nervousness that may appear before your bi-annual visit.
The second caveat is don’t make the reward a sugary treat. All this does is undermine the importance of taking care of your teeth through good nutrition as well as encourage cavities to grow in your child’s mouth. Help your child to remember the super clean feeling in their mouth for as long as possible once the visit is over.
So what should you do? The best way to make the reward something that your children will appreciate is to tailor the reward to their individual interests. One great reward is a special outing with a parent, such as to a movie, the park or a new museum. Kids often crave one-on-one time with a parent, and having your sole attention for the afternoon will be a memory that they will cherish.
Another reward could potentially be the purchasing of a longed for item, such as a book or a game. This item will be a reminder of the positive thing that they did that day, as well as reinforce a positive outcome.
Rewards do not need to be big, spectacular or expensive. In fact, in accordance with caveat one, it’s probably best that they are not. Instead they should be a simple positive reinforcement to your children that going to the dentist was a good choice and help them want to return. By encouraging these regular visits, you will help start them on a lifetime of good oral health.