My 6-Year-Old Is Scared of Losing Her Baby Teeth—How Can I Ease Her Fear?

Fears come with childhood, but we can do more than tell them not to be scared.'s "Ask Your Mom" columnist, Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., says using a combination of strategies to help our children face fears when they are young helps them feel calmer and more confident as they get older.

Illustration of child surrounded by teeth
Photo: Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Teething's Over

My 6-year-old is afraid of losing any more baby teeth. She says she 'doesn't like the blood' when the teeth come out. I totally get that it's scary but how best can I reassure her?

—Teething's Over

Even when we know fears are normal for children, it can be tricky to navigate a fear that they have no choice but to face. You do not have the option of stopping the baby teeth from falling out until she feels better! That's actually a good thing, as one of the least helpful things we can do as parents is to ensure our child avoids their fear so they don't have to feel scared. That robs them of the opportunity to build skills to manage those feelings, which obviously persist beyond young childhood.

The how of helping our children manage fears can depend on many factors (like how anxious our child is in other ways), but the good news is we have a solid base of evidence over decades of research and mental health practice to know what seems to be most effective.

Reassurance: A Double-Edged Sword

The non-anxious human brain's first instinct when hearing an irrational fear is to explain the reasons it's not scary ("the blood is not going to hurt you, you don't need to be scared"). The parents I work with in my practice do it all the time. I do it all the time. My son doesn't like to go into dark rooms alone; I can't count how many times I have said, "There's nothing to be scared of, you can do it." When we are not the ones feeling the fear, it's easy to see that a child's fear is groundless. You may have noticed that this often doesn't work to actually remove the fear! Besides not working, giving reassurance can actually reinforce more seeking reassurance, which can be part of a larger anxiety. So, instead of trying to reason or reassure our kids out of their fears, we can battle the fear with two mighty weapons: exposure and evidence-based coping.

Exposure With Care

We have to face what makes us scared and anxious to feel less anxious, despite the impulse to avoid and escape. Our children with a fear want to avoid and escape at all costs, so it's our job to turn them in the direction of facing the fear, called exposure. When my son was 3 and scared of spiders, I impulsively decided to put my psychology skills to work one morning in our basement, and threw a rubber spider at him in an act of exposure. He shrieked and sobbed, and then I remembered this kind of exposure was not recommended. Oops. (Hey—psychologist moms make mistakes too!)

The more successful way to use exposure is usually gradual. An example for your situation: if the blood is freaking her out, you could have your daughter look at pictures of a bloody tooth as a less direct experience with it. Help her label how she feels while looking at it, and then practice strategies to feel less discomfort. Then graduate to a more direct experience, like remembering the last time her tooth fell out, thinking about the next time she loses a tooth, or wiggling a loose tooth. Children's imaginations are much more vivid than ours, so this type of imagining can be powerful.

Calm and Confidence

The other key to exposure activities is that children have some strategies to practice during the exposure. Pairing strategies with exposures is what builds their confidence that they can become calm, even when scared at first (reason 63 to not throw a rubber spider at your terrified 3-year-old). The strategies are simple and combine thoughts, feelings, and behaviors:

  • Notice the scared feeling in the body.
  • Calm the body first, either with deep breaths, a quick guided imagery of a calm place, or tensing muscles before relaxing them (a technique called progressive muscle relaxation that helps an anxious body settle down).
  • Use positive affirmations to target anxious thoughts; you can list some with a child before doing the exposure. Writing them down is helpful so they can reference the statements while feeling scared. Some examples: "I am safe. This scary thing [blood in my mouth] can't hurt me." The focus on safety is important to dial down the brain's fear response.

Anxious Parent, Anxious Child

The research literature about fears and anxiety in childhood show without a doubt that our anxiety plays a huge role in our children's. The more we can convey "everything is fine, nothing to worry about here," the more they absorb our calm. In your situation, your daughter might be extra sensitive to any of your flinching or wincing when seeing blood. A bloody tooth event might be easy for parents to stay cool, calm, and collected during, but it's really important for events that might actually trigger a parent's anxiety response, like shots. The more we feel scared for our children about that needle, the more anxious they will be. In some scenarios, we may have to face our own fears more effectively so we can help our children face theirs.

The Bottom Line

You asked about how to reassure your daughter about losing teeth, and got a lot more than advice about reassurance. Reassurance usually scratches the surface of fear without really changing it. Even though using exposure and calming coping strategies may be a lot more time and effort than saying, "there's nothing to be scared of," that time and effort pays off for the next fear, and the next. Over time, you will likely notice your daughter becoming less fearful in general instead of playing whack-a-mole with the various childhood fears. Even my son can look at a rubber spider without abject terror, four years later. If you don't throw a bloody tooth at your daughter, it will likely take even less time to see results.

Submit your parenting questions here, and they may be answered in future 'Ask Your Mom' columns.

Emily Edlynn, Ph.D., is the author of The Art and Science of Mom parenting blog and the upcoming parenting book Parenting for Autonomy. She is a mother of three from Oak Park, Illinois and a clinical psychologist in private practice who specializes in working with children and adolescents.

Read More Ask Your Mom columns here.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles