Beating Generational Fear: how to keep from passing odontophobia on to your children

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Psychiatrists and psychologists have long suspected that phobias are effectively heritable, and there are plenty of studies that back them up. Biology requires that small children learn to instinctively fear the things that their parents fear; there needs to be some way of passing on concern for dangerous animals, unstable surfaces and risky situations, after all!

This is exactly what you need when you're concerned that your child will stick their finger into a plug socket or approach a venomous spider. If you're afraid of going to see the dentist, however—and up to 15% of the population are, so you're not alone—that's a fear you very much don't want to pass onto them. So what can you do?

Don't Pretend You Aren't Nervous There's no point lying to your children about this—if you're nervous, they'll pick up on it. Rather than putting a brave face on it, be honest with them. Tell them that you're nervous but also that being so nervous is silly, which is why you're trying to feel less nervous. If you're aware of the root of your fear of the dentist—for many people it stems from unpleasant childhood dental experiences—you might want to tell them that story, while explaining that it was a long time ago and dentists aren't like that any more.

Whatever you decide to tell them about your fears, you need to ensure that it's broadly factual while also emphasising the fact that you're working to overcome it because you know it's not the right way to feel. Most children will be able to understand and internalise that, and it's an important step along the way to helping your kids face the dentist's chair without fear.  

Work On The Fear Itself Once you've told them you're working to overcome it, of course, you're going to need to actually try to overcome it—both for their sake and for your own.

Thankfully, phobias can be dealt with. There are plenty of things you can try, but one of the most important is to face your fears—to go to the dentist even when you don't want to as the first step on the road to reassuring yourself that it's all going to be just fine.

You can enlist your children to help here, too. Kids love to feel brave, and they love to feel as though they're helping the adults around them—so let them help you. By asking them to hold your hand because you're afraid and telling them they're so brave, you'll be reinforcing the notion in their minds that you might be worried but they're not. They'll want to stay brave for you, and it won't even occur to them to begin to worry themselves.