Expecting Anxiety

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m 34 and my wife is just a few weeks away from giving birth to our first baby. I’m excited about becoming a dad, but my anxiety levels over the past week have been through the roof and sometimes I feel like I’m having a heart attack. On top of my shortness of breath and dizziness, I’m also breaking out in hives. I’ve seen my doctor about this, but he has yet to solve my problem. My wife has been very supportive, but I hate feeling so helpless when she’s the one who has to give birth. What can I do to be normal again?

A: Good news: as unpleasant and frightening as your symptoms are, what you’re going through is actually perfectly normal. There’s no question that your wife’s physical experience of pregnancy is a lot more intense than yours. But psychologically, the two of you are going through pretty much the same thing. I sometimes think that the above-the-neck part of the pregnancy might even be more profound for men than it is for women. Women have far stronger social networks than men do and they’ve got mothers, sisters, aunts, and female friends to talk with about their fears, worries, and concerns. Men tend not to want to admit to anyone else (sometimes even ourselves, and especially not our spouse) that we’re scared half to death of the way our life is going to be turned upside down and inside out.

Those fears—and the accompanying anxiety—make perfect sense. If you’re like most first-time expectant dads, you have no idea how your life is going to change. Sure, everyone you know has probably told you that “life’s never going to be the same.” True, but have you ever wondered what that means? One of my favorite quotes came from a woman who was asked to describe the way everyone told her that parenthood was going to be like and the way it actually turned out to be. “It’s like the difference between watching a tornado on TV,” she said, “and having one tear the roof off your house.” She’s right, and there’s nothing you can do to prepare 100% for your little tornado.
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Single-Parent Sex: Getting Caught with Your Pants Down. Literally.

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a single dad and have been going out with a wonderful woman for quite a while. She sometimes spends the night, but last time, my 8-year-old daughter walked in on us while we were making love. I don’t think she was there very long, but she was crying and seemed frightened by the whole thing, and my girlfriend didn’t take it too well either. What should I do? Did I just scar my daughter for life?

A: Ah, yes, the joys of single-parent dating. Bedtime stories are done, the kids are asleep, you and your lover slowly make your way from your candle-lit dinner to the bedroom for a little adult time—clothing optional. Things are going marvelously, wonderfully, delightfully… Then, out the corner of your eye, you see a teddy bear in your doorway—and it’s attached to your child. What a way to ruin the mood.
Chances are you haven’t done any long-term damage to your daughter. But in situations like these, it’s important to respond right away—even if you’re convinced that she wasn’t watching for very long. Young kids can be confused by entangled, naked bodies and the accompanying sound effects, and may worry that mom or dad (or both) are fighting and are hurting each other. Here’s what you should do:

  • Stay calm. Yelling at a child to “get out of here!” could frighten her even more and convince her that you were doing something bad.
  • Don’t let her go away alone. If she runs away on her own, go after her. If not, take her by the hand and lead her back to her bed. Then, sit with her and reassure her that you weren’t being hurt or hurting anyone else. If you think she’s mature enough to understand, tell her that adults sometimes express their love for each other that way. But don’t be surprised if you get a sarcastic snort. Even very young children have seen a lot more than we had back in the day and they usually know a lot more about things than we give them credit for. If she asks for a more sophisticated explanation, give her one, complete with the proper names for the organs involved. But don’t go overboard.
  • No apologies (unless you screamed at your child). Your child may have gotten the message earlier than you would have liked, but she needs to know that sex is a normal thing that grown-ups sometimes do. If you act embarrassed or ashamed (and you very well may be), your child could end up with the idea that sex is, well, something to be embarrassed and ashamed of. If you want your child to have a health attitude about sex as she gets older, that’s exactly the wrong message.
  • Talk to the other adult involved. Making sure your child is okay comes first. Once that situation is resolved, you need to check in with your girlfriend. If she’s thrown her clothes on and is slipping out the back door, don’t let her go—you guys need to have a chat. Yes, getting caught in the act can be disconcerting, but it shouldn’t affect your relationship. Although it might make her think twice before agreeing to sleep over at your house ever again.
  • Use protection. No, not that kind. Your choice of birth control is your own business. The protection I’m talking about is called a lock: install one or make better use of the one you already have.

A Journey through America’s Self-Help Culture

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, author of Promise Land.
One woman’s journey through America’s self-help culture.
Issues: Overcoming phobias and fears; walking on hot coals; coping with grief at the saddest camp in the world; the trouble with the Law of Attraction; the best and the worst of the self-help gurus.

Parenting without Fear + Promise Land

William Levin, author of Parenting without Fear.
Raising balanced children in a healing world
Issues: Recognizing the guiding signals from our children’s nature in their early years; how we can move into natural partnership with our children’s nature and our own; recognizing and disengaging from the shamed and fearful beliefs that obstruct those natural partnerships.

Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, author of Promise Land.
One woman’s journey through America’s self-help culture.
Issues: Overcoming phobias and fears; walking on hot coals; coping with grief at the saddest camp in the world; the trouble with the Law of Attraction; the best and the worst of the self-help gurus.

Nothing to Fear but Overreactions

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve read stories about people having ID numbers etched into their children’s teeth, and not letting their kids play outside, and those Amber Alerts make it seem as though hundreds of children are being abducted and murdered every day. Like most parents, I want to protect my kids. I don’t mean to sound heartless, but I think we’ve gone overboard. Am I wrong?

A: Nope, I think you’re absolutely right. The reality is that, factoring out the threat of nuclear war, the world is not any more dangerous for children today than it was a few generations ago. But thanks in large part to the media, which repeats stories over and over and over, too many parents are in a panic. And our children are paying the price.

When I was as young as eight, growing up in Oakland, California, I took city busses all over town to visit friends, grandparents, even go bowling. And all the other kids I knew were doing the same thing. But I’m pretty sure that if I put my 10-year old on a bus by herself today, I’d get arrested.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take reasonable precautions to keep our kids safe. Of course we should. We should teach them to look both ways before they cross streets, wear helmets when they ride their bikes or skateboards, wear seatbelts in the car, and not take candy from strangers. And before sending our kids off on a playdate, we should try to make sure that the adults in charge are responsible and trustworthy. But we can’t protect them from every possible danger. Not letting our kids explore their neighborhood (or even their own backyards), not allowing them to get a few bumps and bruises once in a while, and filling their heads with stories of dangerous strangers lurking behind every tree, we’re keeping them from developing the independence, self-confidence, and ability to made decisions that they’ll need as they stumble toward adulthood.

Part of the problems is that we’re way too concerned with what other people think. Let me give you a few examples. A recent study of more than 3,000 children and parents found that while half of parents played outside at least once a day when they were young, only 23% would allow their own children to do the same. Why? Well, 53% of those parents said they were worried about traffic. And 40% said they were concerned about “stranger danger.” I get both of those, even though the fears are exaggerated. But the statistic that really got me was that 30% of the parents who keep their kids cooped up indoors feel that they’ll be harshly judged by their neighbors if they let the kids play outside unsupervised.
Another recent study was even more horrifying—and tragic. This one talked about how a growing number of daycares have banned physical contact between caregivers and children out of fear that the adults might be accused of molesting the youngsters. We’re talking about toddlers and younger. In some cases, the daycare staff is being told that cuddling small children is bad because it could make them too dependent. What a crock.
Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes around small children knows how much they’re comforted by physical touch. Many experts say that depriving kids of being cuddled or held or, gasp, kissed, increases their stress levels and can have serious, long-term negative consequences for their development. On a less-scientific level, it seems positively cruel.

10 Tips to Reduce Kids’ Fear of the Dentist

I just did a post on Talking About Men’s Health about how not brushing teeth enough can lead to gum disease, which in turn can lead to erection problems. At least some of the reason men (and women) have less-than-ideal dental hygiene is that they’re afraid of going to the dentist. Unfortunately, they often pass those fears on to their children. In this guest post, Jon Engle give us some advice on how to help our kids (and probably ourselves) overcome those fears.

There are many things – good and bad –  that children inherit from their parents. According to a recent study published in a prominent industry journal, fear of the dentist is one of those.

Scientists at Spain’s Rey Juan Carlos University studied 183 children in Madrid, age 7 to 12,  along with their parents, and found that fear levels among mothers, fathers and their kids are interconnected. The researchers found that fathers play a pivotal role when it comes to those fears being transferred from mothers to their children, since dads act as a key mediating factor.

“Although the results should be interpreted with due caution, children seem to mainly pay attention to the emotional reactions of the fathers when deciding if situations at the dentist are potentially stressful,” said researcher America Lara Sacido, writing in the International Journal of Paediatric Dentistry.

The authors conclude that getting kids not to dread the dentist’s chair means involving mothers and fathers in fear prevention, and making sure dads come to the dentist with their children and show no signs of fear or nervousness.

Parents can also work with dentists to make the experience less stressful. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry:

1. Avoid drop-offs. – Resist the temptation to run errands while your child is in the chair, and stay at the dental office. Knowing that Mom or Dad is nearby is reassuring, and the dental team may need to obtain consent or provide instructions to a responsible adult.

2. Reassure, but don’t interfere. – Be a silent observer, and let the dentist build rapport with the child as a trusted coach. Parents might consider holding the child’s hand or letting the toddler sit in Mom or Dad’s lap during the process. Otherwise, stand or sit in a location where the child knows you are near, but avoid giving worried facial cues that could upset the child.

3. Tell, show, and do. – Among many methods that pediatric dentists use in dealing with young patients, parents can expect the professional to explain treatment in age-appropriate terms, then show the child the procedure in a simplified manner. Finally, the actual treatment is performed without deviating from the explanation.

4. Praise cooperation. – The parent can join the dentist in offering positive reinforcement – praising and rewarding the child for behavior that helps the treatment proceed smoothly. The mantra in many pediatric dental offices is that every child does something right during the visit.

5. Welcome distractions. – Kid-friendly dental pros have ways to take patients’ attention away from things that are unpleasant. The dental team uses words carefully when describing treatments, finds ways to pass instruments out of the child’s sight to avoid intimidation, and deploys diversionary tactics ranging from conversation and music, to movies and video games.

6. Speak up about voice control. – Pediatric dentists can change their voice tone or volume to calm a child or get the patient’s attention. Speaking in a soft, controlled tone, and repeating messages as necessary, has been found to be useful. Some dentists advocate a loud tone when needed to discourage disruptive actions by the patient – for instance, reaching for a sharp instrument that can cause injury. Parents should observe the situation, and speak to the dentist afterward if they are not comfortable about the tone deployed.

7. View some model behavior. – If parents are willing, some dentists allow children, before their own procedure, to observe another “model” patient undergoing a positive dental visit. The child might be less nervous after watching a parent or sibling getting treatment, or maybe viewing a video showing someone their own age in the dentist’s chair.

8. Help with stabilization. – In some situations, parents may be asked to keep the young patient from moving during treatment, in order to prevent injury and allow treatment to be completed safely for everyone involved. That might involve holding the patient on her lap with arms hugging the child. The dentist might also use a body “blanket” that holds arms and legs still, and away from the mouth. These methods are usually deployed only after other behavior guidance methods have been considered.

9. Consider sedation options. – Parents should discuss with their dentist the different medication and sedation methods available, as well as special monitoring equipment used to protect patients. Sedation can help increase cooperation and reduce anxiety and discomfort associated with some dental procedures, and prevent injury by helping children stay still around sharp or fast-moving instruments. The child is relaxed but not asleep, and the pediatric dentist selects a medication and dosage based on the patient’s overall health and anxiety level.

10. Weigh pros and cons of general anesthesia. —  This is most often recommended for young patients with extensive dental needs, who otherwise can’t tolerate necessary treatment. In practical terms, patients are asleep and can’t respond to touch or voices during procedures under general anesthesia. Parents should know that kids face the same risks under general anesthesia for dental treatment as they would for any other surgical procedure. Treatment should be provided only by highly qualified professionals with advanced education in anesthesiology, in settings with proper monitoring and emergency equipment.


This is a guest post by Jon Engle. To find a Chattanooga dentist or find a dentist office in your area, consider Castle Dental with over 400 affiliated dental offices throughout 18 states. Learn more!