What do you do when you have four hands and three instruments in your mouth and you’re about to sneeze? You write a blog post in your head of course! 🙂 This was me today. I spent a few hours this morning at the dentist. I went there thinking that I needed to get a root canal done, and finding out that thankfully I didn’t, but I did need to get three cavities filled instead. This was my first big experience with my new dentist. I had a wonderful dentist before, but he retired, and I heard terrific things about this dentist. While I procrastinated on going in — going to the dentist terrifies me — I finally made it in there last week. And now I was back today. I didn’t know what to expect, but I definitely didn’t expect a tickle in my nose within the first few minutes of lying down. I couldn’t risk sneezing though, so instead, I did some thinking.
I’m not sure if she’s aware of it or not, but I think that this dentist truly understands Self-Reg.
- Yes, a dental office room needs to be bright, but right away, she offered me some sunglasses to help darken the space and lighten my stress load. In our classroom, we often only turn on one set of lights, and use natural light as well as some darker areas, to create micro-environments in the room. I really appreciate these different spaces, and I’m very sensitive to bright lights. Knowing that they might be necessary for her, I love how the offer of some sunglasses also gave me what I needed.
- She checked on me constantly. The dentist always wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel any pain and that I was doing okay. She even offered me a break between cavity fillings in case it was too much for me to experience multiple ones at the same time. Just as students can benefit from some short breaks, so can adults! (Now I will admit that I was eager to get these fillings done, so I said, “no,” to the breaks, but possibly a break would have helped with my sneezing problem. If only my nose was still tickling then! 🙂 )
- Everything about her was soft and quiet. From her gentle touch to her quiet voice to the low music in the background, I just felt calm being around her. And just for the record, I am never calm in a dentist’s chair. 🙂 She was the exception though. Again I thought about the classroom. I was like that anxious child: the soft tone and limitless patience made a big difference.
- She always made sure I could answer before she asked me questions. One thing that I struggle with at the dentist is when I need to respond to a question and the dentist has his/her hands in my mouth. How can I talk? How will the dentist understand me? This increases my stress, and makes me reluctant to engage in conversation, but then makes me feel rude if I don’t reply to comments made. It’s like this dentist understood that, and she always made sure that she removed her hands from my mouth after she asked me a question. She gave me a way to speak easily, and I so appreciated this!
- She built a relationship with me first. As a new patient, I had to arrange a 1 1/2 hour meet-and-greet appointment (this isn’t the official name for this appointment, but this is what it was). During this time, the dentist got to know me as a person and as a patient. She found out how I feel about coming to the dentist, what causes me stress, and what makes me feel calm. She took X-rays, went through my teeth with me, and then worked on a plan to support me as one of her patients. Even today, when I came back for some dental work, she spent a little time talking to me about my summer. She told me about her kids (whom I knew from one of my teaching experiences), and she gave us a chance to connect before she started working in my mouth. Self-Reg starts with relationships, and this dentist spent the time to build these important connections!
As an educator, today’s dental experience has me reflecting on the classroom. How do we connect with and support kids? How do we create these calm environments in different places around our school? This dentist could have just seen today as an opportunity to do some work, make some money, and move onto the next patient, but she never did. She spent the additional time needed to connect with me, and it made a huge difference on how I viewed the dental office … even when I needed to sneeze. 🙂 I wonder if a focus on Self-Reg makes as big a difference on how staff and students view the school.
Your post made me think about those parents who may not have had positive school experiences and who view a visit to the school with the same level of stress that you and I have at the dentist’s office. What can we do to reduce stress for those parents, especially when I feel like I’m rushing people through parent-teacher interviews because there are so many people to see and so little time to see them all? From your post, it’s about taking time to build relationships and create personal connections, creating a safe, soothing environment, and checking in with parents throughout the school year, not just at parent teacher interview time.
Thanks for your comment, Lisa! Great point. I think that we need to be honest with parents that time is limited at the yearly interviews, but find other times to meaningfully engage with them. Our Family Art Afternoon — https://adunsiger.com/2018/03/13/how-do-we-move-from-observing-to-doing/ – year-end picnic – https://adunsiger.com/2018/07/06/bring-out-the-change-card-learning-to-live-with-those-unexpected-changes-in-plans/ – and even just the daily discussions and weekly phone calls help with these stronger connections. I would love to hear what others do. Thinking and chatting about different options is a good first step.