I’m not sure when it happened. I’m not sure how it happened. I’m not even sure why it happened. But parents today find it really hard to see their child upset even when there is a greater good being served. Parents don’t want their children to fuss or cry at all it seems. Now I’m not advocating a cry-fest all the time but let’s face it, children need limits and structure and sometimes what they want isn’t what’s best for them.
An extreme example recently was a parent who was reluctant to give her 18 month old a time out in her crib despite the fact that the child was repeatedly biting the parent. The parent felt that it was too isolating and the child was going to feel abandoned and unloved if put in a time out alone. In reality, a child who doesn’t understand that there are consequences for behavior and limits that are enforced will ultimately be more anxious and stressed out than the child who feels that the adults in her life are the bosses.
Older infants whose parents go in the room several times during the night when the infant awakens are not allowing the child to learn to fall back to sleep on his own. And it is the parent’s discomfort with hearing the child cry that drives the behavior. The infant if left alone will learn to fall asleep on his own in just a matter of three nights or so and will be happier and better rested during the day but the parents can’t seem to see that the short-term pain means long-term gain for everyone.
Another example of this with growing consequences is parents not routinely brushing their toddler’s teeth because “he hates it.” Most young children don’t love having their teeth brushed but in not doing so, parents are putting their child’s oral health at risk. A dramatic rise in preschoolers with cavities and tooth infection has occurred and it is in large part because parents don’t have the gumption to just get the job done when it comes to brushing. Many of these young children need general anesthesia to get their dental work done and many of these cases could be prevented.
Even before tooth eruption, wiping the gums with a burp cloth after most feedings is a good idea and once teeth are there, wiping the front ones is important too. A toothbrush (or a little appliance you put on your finger to use it as a brush if you’re gutsy) is necessary once molars have erupted. Brushing your child’s teeth twice a day is best and you can even use a tiny amount of fluoride toothpaste to facilitate it under 2 years of age. Whether your child likes it or not should not be a part of the equation; teeth brushing is essential. Once children are 2, a pea sized amount of fluoride toothpaste can be used and swallowed.
In addition to brushing twice a day, parents should limit liquids to circumscribed meal and snack times. Having a cup with milk or watered down juice (even if its a tiny amount of juice) available to be sipped on throughout the day prevents mouth from having the long stretches of un-sugared time to rebalance and create a hostile environment for bacterial growth. Children who are continuing to feed during the night (especially co-sleeping breast fed babies if the infant has unfettered access to to the breast) after 8 months of age are also at risk.
Parents who use only bottled water are increasing their child’s risk of cavities too as this water is often not fluoridated. Tap water is better!
Finally, parents who have ‘bad teeth’ themselves may harbor more of the cavity producing bacteria in their mouths so sharing cups with your child or cleaning their pacifier by putting in your mouth before giving it back to the child may also increase your child’s risk.
Dental decay hurts and some toddlers and preschoolers will not eat or sleep well because of unrecognized tooth pain. These children are fussy and some will go on to develop abscesses in their teeth which makes their dental issues more visible. Brown or back furrows in the teeth are indicators of tooth decay but early on there may be little visible to the naked eye. Children who’s parents can’t consistently brush their teeth or who have a history of ‘bad teeth’ themselves should definitely be taking their young children to the dentist as soon as molars have erupted. If you can brush your child’s teeth regularly, limit food and liquids to discreet meal and snack times, and if you don’t have a family history of tooth decay, you may be able to wait until your child is a little older before visiting the dentist for the first time.