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Dental Shaming: Dear Pediatric Dental Hygienist

Dental Shaming-Dear Pediatric Dental HygienistI wrote the following to my children’s pediatric dental office. I did not want to mention their name, as a courtesy, because overall I’ve had a great experience there, and it takes a lot for me to put down someone’s business. We all need grace and second chances.

But I had to write it. And I had to share it. Because I know other parents out there deal with this. I know you struggle to get your child comfortable with going, and there can be something so subtle as tone and attitude that make or break the positive experience for a child.

I left the office before I spoke from my anger. I consulted friends, slept on it, prayed about it, and decided to send this. I measured each word carefully. I hope they take my advice and use it as a learning tool. If nothing else, I helped Little Man’s voice be heard. I don’t care how someone makes me feel, but he walked out of there feeling completely defeated, and a pediatric dental hygienist with a bad attitude is not someone we base our self-esteem on. Shake it off, Little Man. I got this. You worry about chasing butterflies and checking on your cabbage plant.

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To the attention of the office manager, the dentist, and the hygienist who treated my son yesterday:

I wanted to discuss my poor experience yesterday at the 4:30 PM appointment for my 10 year old son. What I’m about to share with you will hopefully be used as healthy feedback for your staff. We all have bad days now and again, but when I see a consistent problem that can drive people away from your business, I would like to share with you my experience in hopes that you use it constructively for the future.

First, let me say that I have had mostly wonderful experiences over the years with everyone in that office, from front desk staff, to all dentists I’ve encountered, and every dental hygienist, except for one, the one who did follow-up with us, alongside the dentist, around 5:20 PM yesterday.

We have had her before, and I was less than pleased by her tone and attitude toward both child and parent in several experiences, but my older son is a teenager and could blow it off. Not everyone is going to click. I don’t have to like someone to have them do a great job with my child’s teeth.

Fast forward to yesterday. My anxious/special needs child (10 years old) was reasonable and compliant. I even expressed some of his concerns and needs to the first pediatric dental hygienist who greeted us (different from the one who cleaned his teeth). When I came back for the report: no cavities. The dentist and I were having a lovely conversation when I asked about how well he was doing brushing. The dental hygienist interrupted and spoke in an inappropriate shaming tone, something along the lines of this:

“We called his bluff, Mom. He did a good job preparing today right before the appointment, and so now, Mom, we know he can do it, and there’s absolutely no reason he can’t take care of his teeth like this all of the time. That was far too much plaque for him. He shouldn’t have to be cleaned to that extent. There’s no reason he can’t do better. He proved it today that he’s capable so you need to hold him accountable.” 

This all was said in front of my son, by the way, as if he were an object in the room and it was her job to give him a lecture.

Let me just say that I don’t mind honesty, but the delivery was insulting and shaming to a child and a parent.

I sat there, stunned at the tone (not the content….I don’t mind honest content). It’s not the first time she’s left me ruffled in her lack of bedside manner and condescension.

What she doesn’t know is he spent 20 minutes brushing his teeth 3 times, flossing, gargling. 

What she doesn’t know is he was desperately afraid of displeasing her based on a previous experience.

What she doesn’t know is the toothpaste flavor is difficult, but he didn’t complain.

What she doesn’t know is he chews his toothbrushes for sensory feedback.

She doesn’t know I had already done a lot of work to get him comfortable coming in to the office to be less anxious in seeing her in the first place. I was already exhausted trying to make it a good experience for both my child and the hygienist ahead of time.

After taking a deep breath and composing myself, I said something like this:

“You know, what you just said may be important, and I agree that it is, but with this particular child I see so many specialists for so many things and get told difficult things all the time, that what you just said isn’t as important to me in light of that right now.”

When the dentist asked if I was okay, I said:

“I’m overwhelmed, to be honest, by this. I’m going to need to leave now.” 

My only requests:

1) My children’s charts get flagged so that none of them have this hygienist ever again. If that requires rescheduling future cleanings, I’m happy to be flexible about that.

2) Please make sure those involved read this. I believe every bad experience can lead to greater understanding and personal and professional growth. I would like to think the office staff involved in my situation feel the same way.

The moral of the story is: Yes, he does need to brush his teeth better. But, my son is a child with multiple issues. He was compliant. He did what you asked. He didn’t take up extra time, really. But you do not know his personal battles, and teeth do need care, yes, but so does the whole person. I have bigger battles right now.

There are ways to communicate truth about how to have better dental health to parents without shaming and embarrassing both parent and child. Her response was offensive and completely inappropriate. This is a pediatric dental office. You never know what someone is dealing with in the “whole child” when you express concern over the dental piece. The dental piece is one piece of a whole child. Instead of shaming, try encouraging and graciously communicating the concern. It goes a long way to build trust and understanding. These are children.

Best,

Bonnie Lyn Smith

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Dental Shaming- Dear Pediatric Dental Hygienist2

*This blog has been shared at any link highlighted here: Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Pick Your Pin Tuesday, Women With Intention Wednesdays, Grace & Truth, A Little R & R, RaRa Link-Up, Me, Coffee & Jesus, Dance With Jesus, Blessing Counters, Coffee & Conversation, Saturday Soiree, Tell His Story, Find Stability, So Much at Home, Faith-Filled Fridays, Reflect His Love and Glory Link-Up, Bonbon & Coffee Linkup, and Christian Mommy Blogger.

More of my personal story of uncovering my child’s special needs can be found in Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (includes Book Club Discussion Questions).

 
 

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Redefining Unconditional: How Our Son Completely Changed Our Lives

I was so honored to have the opportunity to write a very personal piece at Rosevine Cottage Girls a few weeks ago. Cheyenne asked me to join their series on the “unconditional love of a special needs parent.” Oh, yes, please! You see, I believe this article is for any parent. Our children transform us and chip away at selfishness and pride, if we’re willing to let our parenting experiences shape us into better people. Parenting of any kind is saying “yes” to the changes that happen within us when we welcome the possibility of unconditional love into our lives.

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For two years, I would sit at his basketball games and silently sob.

Not because Little Man (our youngest son) wasn’t as good as the other kids were. (He wasn’t at the time.)

Not because I was embarrassed to be the only parent with a kid on that team not keeping up.

Redefining Unconditional_ How Our Son Completely Changed Our LivesI would weep because he was cognitively stuck. Like a computer sluggishly trying to process a hard drive full of information, he would stare. The game went on around him, and he lagged 30 seconds behind. He would run down the court just as the team was turning around to head the other way down the court. Then he would remember, briefly, to “guard his man” before getting lost in the loudness of the gymnasium, the overstimulation of the ball bouncing around him, the fast pace of the kids racing past, and the pure anxiety of being in slow-motion when everyone around you is on pace. He would peel his hangnails and wear a perpetually worried look on his face.

My heart would ache and shatter not because he was different but because it was an indication that once again, he was suspended in that time and place called dysregulation, for whatever the reason, and we would need months to partly climb back out again.

Join me over at Rosevine Cottage Girls to read how Little Man changed our lives for the better.

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Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Top 10 Ways to Keep Kids Regulated and Engaged During the Holidays

Top 10 Ways to Keep Kids Regulated and Engaged During the HolidaysWhether or not you have a child with special needs during the holidays, everyone in the house—adults and teens included—can get ramped up and a little “off” during the lack of routine, irregular eating and sleeping patterns, and increased social interactions of the holidays.

As facilitator of a FOCUS Group for Special Needs Parents at my church, I brought in a 20-year public school occupational therapist within our congregation to do a parent workshop on “De-Stressing the Holidays.” With Linda’s permission, I share some helpful tips for all families at a particularly stressful-yet-fun time of year. Perhaps there are some last-minute stocking stuffer ideas you can find here as well.

10. Social Stories (to help with emotions, disappointments, fear, anxiety, etc.)

The holidays often come to us as a mixed bag of expectations and emotions. Children are excited, perhaps nervous about a family get-together, have pent-up energy and frustrations, and have trouble staying regulated among the extra sugar intake, late nights, and unpredictable schedule. “Social stories” can have pictures and words; they walk through holiday-time scenarios so kids know what to expect and that feelings can be unpredictable and very normal. Here is a great web site I found for social stories on everything from anticipating blood draws to the dentist.

9. Calendaring

Children need a sense of what to expect when the normal routine is disrupted by holiday events and time off school. A simple printed-out calendar with pictures or words (depending on the child’s developmental age) can be a great way to take away the “What are we doing today?” question that visits us twenty times a day and give kids a sense of knowledge and control; they could even express “wants” on it (like “see a movie” or “play a game”). They feel a part of the family calendar when they can see it. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dear Parent of a Child With Special Needs

Dear Parent of a Child with Special Needs:Dear Parent of a Child With Special Needs

I have something to say to you.

I want you to take a deep breath.

I want you to stop blaming yourself (if you do).

I want you to know that on a day that demands much emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual energy to advocate or meet the needs of your child, if that’s all you do, you’re a rock star!

I used to tell myself my child’s disabilities were because I was depressed for a short period of time when he was young.

That I didn’t stimulate his brain enough.

That we didn’t color and do puzzles as much as I did with my other kids.

That I was to blame. I had a lack. I brought this on.

That I should have fed everyone more organic food and cleaned with natural cleaners—and lived on a farm.

That my few piles of disorganized mess were to blame for all executive functioning problems in all family members through several generations.

My if onlys?

If only I read up on all this during the early intervention years. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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What Blessing Is in Your Fort?

What Blessing Is in Your Fort?

I came home the day before Mother’s Day from a long-overdue visit with a friend. We had a lovely time as she introduced me to her favorite chocolate shop in Cambridge. I enjoyed an iced milk chocolate (yes, indeedy—that specific!) mocha with the purest chocolate I’ve ever tasted. It slid down my throat like silky cocoa sweetness with a “Yippee!” as it landed. It was vacation in a cup.

We tooled around a bit, stopping in a naturals store where I picked up a ginger lotion and peppermint essence for my sinus headaches. I don’t usually spend that kind of time shopping for me; it was so incredibly soothing: talking with my sweet friend, walking around in the beautiful sunshine that decided to stay in Boston for a while, and even taking the T, with its rocking rhythms as it jerks forward and later glides to a halting stop.

It was a sensory delight in every way: scents, sounds, sun, smooth mocha intake. I got my peace on in a big big way.Iced Mocha And then—then I came home to… Read the rest of this entry »

 

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What I Learned at the IEP Roundtable

IEPRoundtableI’ll admit it. Part of me was terrified.

Sitting around the table with everyone who had assessed my child over the past few months, or in some cases—years—was intimidating.

What were they going to say? Were they going to kick him off the boat—not because they don’t want to help him—but because he ranked in need behind other kids when it came time to dividing up the special education pieces of the School Budget Pie?

I had come to find each of these specialists and staff members endearing in different ways. For better or worse, we had been contractually married for several years in the common cause of my son. We were linked, convenanted by legal documents and a mutual desire to help him.

But what if, once we got around that table, the budget dropped between the two sides of the table, dividing us abruptly in half like Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea? What if a former Ally in the Care of My Son now became a Defender of Policy, Keeper of the Budget?

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