Anyone who has raised teenagers knows how hard it can be to get kids to cooperate. Finishing schoolwork, keeping commitments, being on time, following the rules. Though not every child struggles, many have difficulty doing what is best for them.
In orthodontics as in life, cooperation can be critical. Some responsibilities fall entirely in the patient’s lap. Teenagers must brush their own teeth, keep track of and wear their appliances, and when necessary put on those pesky rubber bands.
But what do you do when—in spite of your best efforts—your teen fails to keep up his part of the treatment plan?
Dr. Ethan Larson has some great ideas: First, don’t let your frustration dominate your interaction. Sure, parents would like things to change. But as you work toward a solution, remember your child’s best qualities, and take the time to express your appreciation. Encouragement is like fertilizer. Change grows in the rich soil of encouragement.
Second, while your child may understand the nature of the problem, he might need help defining the exact struggle he faces. Most ortho patients know what area of compliance is most difficult for them (better brushing, more frequent flossing, or consistently wearing rubber bands). Dr. Larson tries to solve one problem at a time, beginning these discussions with a question:
“When do you forget your rubber bands?”
The child might say, “After dinner.” or “After brushing my teeth at night.”
These questions help a child move from the general (forgetting rubber bands) to the specific (forgetting to replace them after I brush my teeth at night).
Next, let your child ask himself, “What could I do that would help me overcome this specific difficulty?” For instance, if replacing rubber bands after brushing her teeth is a problem, perhaps a sticky note on the bathroom mirror would help. If forgetting his bands after eating is troublesome, maybe he could slip the bands over his pinky finger and leave them there while he eats.
Dr. Larson encourages his patients to take one last step. “I believe that change happens best within the limits of a time-frame. I suggest that we check the success of the student’s plan at the next appointment. Parents probably need to follow up more quickly – like this, ‘Let’s try this and see how things are going on Sunday.’”
The point is, when students solve their own problems, one at a time, they not only experience success in ortho treatment, but they learn a valuable life skill. After all, most adults regularly use similar problem-solving skills. We may want to exercise more regularly, eat better, or grow in the disciplines of our faith. These same steps can help us overcome our own inertia.
How about you? Have you solved your own discipline problem lately? Can you tell us about it?
Dr. Ethan Larson,
With Bette Nordberg