You cannot walk down the street (or through the mall) without seeing them: toddlers in their stroller with a perma-snack on their tray table. Goldfish crackers or cheerios in branded plastic containers are never far from their sticky grip. Contrary to your initial instincts, no, these children are not carbo-loading for a marathon. They are being trained instead to never feel hunger or eat a balanced meal. You’ve also probably seen some of these tykes with a sippy cup (or bottle) of juice, or for the “health conscious” and those of stranger consumer habits; bottled water.
You may have also been in close enough proximity to hear these children being asked instead of told what to do: “Can you hold my hand while we cross the street?” “Do you want to put on your jacket now?”
For those of us who are not necessarily health care providers, we only have seen this behavior as ridiculous. We assumed that the children would grow up to have eating disorders and become absolutely monsters in adolescence (“Can you not bring that gang member into your bedroom at 2:00 a.m., honey?” “Do you want to go take your S.A.T.s this year?”) What we (okay, what I) did not consider is the immediate health implications of this style of parenting. More preschoolers, at every income level, are developing 6-10 cavities. In their baby teeth! This painful development is not the result of genetics or disease, but is (according to dentists) the result of perpetually feeding small children and not enforcing teeth brushing. According to Dr. Jed Best, some parents don’t want to traumatize their tykes with teeth brushing. Let us forget for a moment the actual trauma of tooth decay/infection, dental work and long-term consequence of dental infection, and instead focus on the trauma of tooth-brushing.
We’ve probably all seen the Sponge Bob/Dora/Cinderella toothbrushes and toothpastes in the pharmacy. They’re right next to the strawberry/bubble gum flavored toothpaste. No doubt the higher end shops have all this next to the animated videos and books extolling the rapture of dental hygiene. (To be fair, I’m already feeling a bit traumatized by all of this.) It’s probably safe to assume that some of these cleverly marketed superfluous items are being implemented in many homes. I think we can all agree that the majority of carers are not donning Freddy Krueger masks and approaching their tyke with a power drill (a la Marathon Man.) The trauma is that the child might prefer to not have their teeth brushed. That’s right. The parent sees telling the child what to do as traumatizing. Most children squirm and resist when having their teeth brushed. It’s an odd sensation and involves a bit of a vice grip. A clever child has learned that the slightest resistance and/or vocalization will scare off the adult. (One has to assume that the same cause and effect does not work for face washing, because a dirty face would result in other people seeing the dirt and make assumptions about the parent.) It stands to reason that these same parents would never not apply direct pressure to their bleeding child, or cease pounding the child’s back to dislodge a piece of food, if the child objected. But after a long day of “discussing” every option and choice, after 12 hours of having a toddler (the very definition of an emotional terrorist) guide decisions for him/her, the parent, the entire family and every other person in the restaurant/store/playground/bookstore; a person gets tired.
After my initial horror in this dental discovery (some of these little ones have to be given general anesthesia to treat their massive decay!) I began to see just a flicker of light. Perhaps this development will start to spur a movement. Nobody wants their child in pain. Enormous lengths are taken to ensure children never know discomfort or disappointment. But at what cost? Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that being the adult in the relationship means you actually do know what’s best for the child. Letting a toddler choose which story to have at bedtime is okay. Letting them dictate their nutrition and health care is not.