Preparing children for painful trips to the doctor

By Jane Flanagan

When I have one of those, “I am the worst Mom” moments, I cheer myself up by remembering that I hired Veera, my babysitter. I did something right.

One day recently, Veera and Rusty were playing with Matchbox cars. About 15 minutes in, Rusty decided to steal three of hers.

“You can’t do that, they’re mine,” Veera said.

Rusty, his head hung low, handed them over.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

In her place, I probably would have launched into a lecture.

“Rusty,” I’d say, “you have to share. Kids won’t want to play with you if you don’t.” In the unlikely event this resulted in his cooperation, he would have done it begrudgingly.

Veera is always dealing with things in ways that never occur to me.

Take last week. Rusty had his first dentist appointment. An adult tooth was coming in early and there was a good chance his baby tooth would have to be pulled. Did I mention anything to him? No. My plan was to wait until we got to the dental office. If he needed it pulled, then the dentist and I would spring it on him. This way he wouldn’t get himself all worked up. I even found an article on the Internet advocating this strategy.

I explained my plan to Veera.

She looked disturbed. “No, we have to tell him,” she said.

The notion of springing things on Rusty was a particularly sore subject with Veera. Just the day before we were at the pediatrician’s office for his five-year-old check-up. Rusty had asked me several days prior if he needed a shot and I said that I didn’t think so. But if he did, it probably wouldn’t hurt that much.

Turns out he needed two. And judging from his shrieking, they hurt a lot.

Veera, who was sitting in the waiting room, heard his sobbing.

“He had to get shots?” she said, when, Rusty, bearing two lollipops, and I came into the waiting room. “I didn’t know that,” she said.

If she had, no doubt she would have been more of a comfort to him than either the doctor or I was back in the office. Just before the needles went in, we explained that he wouldn’t need any more shots until he was 11 years old.

“Not until you are a teenager,” I said, as the doctor jabbed in the first one. The second, which produced a lot of blood, hurt even more.

I tried to hug him without squeezing his upper arms. “Not until you are a teenager, Rust,” I said.

Holding his forearms and with wet cheeks, he looked past me to the doctor.

“May I have my lollipops now please?” he said.

So, the following morning, with the dental appointment only few hours away, I was paying attention.

“We have to be smart about it,” Veera said.

“Smart, right,” I thought. “But how?”

“Don’t worry,” I’ll talk to him, she said.

About an hour later I heard the two of them in the hallway getting ready to go to the park. I went to see them off. Rusty was laughing.

“She hasn’t told him yet,” I thought.

I mouthed as much to Veera. “Yes I have,” she mouthed back.

Several hours later, I arrived at the dentist’s office to find them whispering to each other. When our turn came, Rusty and I got up and started walking toward the office.

“Rusty?” called Veera. He turned and looked. “Remember, you are a tough guy.” He nodded.

Turns out the tooth didn’t have to be pulled. At least not yet. But to prepare for the next time, I grilled Veera. It seems she told Rusty about two of his friends, two years older, who have new teeth. They went to the dentist and, being big kids, they were very brave.

So the next time Rusty and I go to the dentist, I will drop the smile and the refrain, “it probably won’t hurt that much.” Instead, I’ll say, “Remember, you are a tough guy.”