‘My five-year-old was traumatised losing a baby tooth’
Ask the Expert: I told her about the tooth fairy and this seemed to only terrify her more
To help your daughter feel more comfortable about her next tooth loss, the first thing you can do is to explain the whole process in a positive child-centred way that she understands and makes sense to her.
Question: My five-year-old lost a baby tooth and it was a very traumatic affair for her. It seemed to take her by surprise and there was a bit of blood which freaked her out.
Afterwards, she could not understand why a tooth would fall out and then was worried about losing another one. There was lots of tears and she seems to think she is falling apart. We explained that everyone loses their teeth and that it means she is growing up. I told her about the tooth fairy coming and this seemed to only terrify her more.
I am really not sure what the issue is.
When I was a child, losing a tooth was no big deal and something to be looked forward to because of the tooth fairy money. I was taken aback by her reaction and now am worried about the next wobbly tooth coming. When I explained to her that everyone loses all their baby teeth and she will be a big girl, that set off a new bout of crying and upset.
How can we help her come to terms with the fact that she will lose a lot more teeth?
Answer: Though you might find it surprising lots of young children worry and are upset when they lose their baby teeth. When you think about it from a child’s perspective, it is understandable that losing a tooth could indeed be a traumatic affair. There is the discomfort and pain of a wobbly tooth, and then the anticipation of the moment when it falls out.
Like your daughter, some children are anxious about bleeding which can make them worry that something more serious wrong. In addition, the process of losing teeth can take children by surprise and be a big shock when they aren’t prepared for what is happening. For some children losing teeth can become a big ordeal and they may even become phobic about losing their next tooth.
Helping your daughter feel comfortable about her next tooth loss.
To help your daughter feel more comfortable about her next tooth loss, the first thing you can do is to explain the whole process in a positive child-centred way that she understands and makes sense to her. There are lots great children books that you can read with your daughter that are reassuring and informative. Search online you will find many such as Billy’s Wonky’ Tooth or Bear’s Loose Tooth.
The latter is a friendly story of a bear who discovers he has a loose tooth and though initially worried is reassured and helped by all the other animals in the forest. All the animals help him wobble his tooth back and forth before he final loses it. The story ends in a celebration as the bear shows his lost tooth to everyone before getting his reward in the morning from the tooth fairy.
If you are not in a position to get the book, you can search youtube to find lots videos of this and other books being read that you could watch with your daughter. There are lots of other great resources online such as social scripts that reassure children about tooth loss and even videos of real preschool children going through having their tooth pulled out and then reassuring other children how easy it was in the end! If you feel up to it, you can also make up your own story script with your daughter that is tailored to her situation to address her specific worries.
In reading a book or watching a video with your daughter, the goal is to reassure her about how normal the tooth loss process is and also how understandable her feelings are. Also, reading together gives your daughter a chance to talk about her specific worries so you can address these. For example, just as the book story might tells of the bears’ worry about whether his tooth will grow back so, you can help her share what her worries are.
Maybe, she is bothered by the discomfort or the bleeding appearing or maybe she is worried her mouth looks funny when a tooth is missing etc. Giving space for her feelings and listening carefully, will make her feel better. Also use the book or video, to describe the stages of tooth loss and the ways it might fall out so she is fully prepared. Your words and the information in the story should reassure her about how the losing her next tooth will go well.
Use a reward to help your daughter manage
Traditionally, the prospect of tooth fairy money is enough to get most children through the pain and discomfort of tooth loss. However, for your daughter it sounds like the tooth fairy is an additional worry for her. Interestingly, your daughter is not alone as lots of children don’t identify some of the magical stories we tell as sources of comfort and many can worry about that they mean.
Rather than getting into a battle about the benefits of the tooth fairy, you can simply give her the reward directly the next time. For example, identify a simple treat that she would really like such as a box of coloured pencils or a bubbles mix. Having the reward on standby and giving it immediately as a celebration of her bravery the next time she loses a tooth will help her manage.
John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is author of several parenting books including Positive Parenting and Parenting Teenagers. See solutiontalk.ie