Kids and Anxiety: Parents share their experience and the challenges

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You can fix a scrape with a bandage, you can soothe an upset stomach with chicken noodle soup,
but how can you help a young child experiencing mental anguish brought on by anxiety?
It’s a mental health disorder that is rising at an alarming rate among children, and at a very young age.

Alysia Huck shares with us the experience of Jolene, Mandy and Amy — three local moms trying to help their children release the grip of anxiety.

Can you tell me kind of what led you to suspect your kiddos had anxiety to begin with?

“My one son, I was focusing more on the ADHD and therapist helped me realize the anxiety part that we needed to work with,” explained Jolene Haffner, mom. “Then my other son, during rehearsal he stood on stage and literally melted down the steps and played dead on the floor.”

“How old were they when they started?”

“My boys were about 3 years old when it was more than a typical 3-year-old behavior,” said Haffner.

“Mandy, how does the anxiety manifest in your daughter?

“A lot of crying, panic attacks, don’t want to do anything, becomes introvert,” said Mandy Gill, mom.

“How about you Amy, as far as how it impacted your son’s daily life?

“He’s always been a quirky child, he is also autistic and has super ADD. We didn’t recognize anxiety until fourth grade,” said Amy Woodbeck, mom. “It just smacked us out of nowhere. He actually had to stay in the hospital for his first suicide attempt in fourth grade due to anxiety. He has had three attempts and it has turned our world upside down. He’s 14 now, he’s had intense therapy. Unbelievable the difference that’s made since he’s learned to verbalize it.”

“I’m right along with you guys, my daughter was diagnosed when she was 3 years old with anxiety and, how about for you Jolene, what kind of challenge is that for you to talk with your young children as far as what they’re experiencing and what they are going through?”

“Like Amy said her son can verbalize that he has anxiety, and I’m like I cannot wait for that day,” exclaimed Haffner. “Because my kids don’t recognize it. They don’t know what is going on in their bodies and you have to kind of be a mind reader and be watching them try to stop it before it gets to a full attack, which is as a parent, exhausting.”

“What has been the biggest help?”

“Don’t minimize their anxiety, don’t tell them to get over it,” explained Woodbeck. “Their feelings are real, just cause they are little people, their feelings are real.”

“It really took the teamwork of all the teachers piecing this together,” said Haffner. “‘This is what I see in my classroom, this is what I see in my classroom,’ with what I’m seeing at home, to finally realize, ‘Oh my goodness this kid is totally shutting down.'”

“I’d like to hear from each of you … what the biggest challenge has been for you.”

“Just not knowing how to help them,” Haffner shared. “You can see it go from here all the way down and they just melt, either into a tantrum or my one son just melts into silence. And as a mom I want the best for my children so just not knowing how to help them has been really hard for me.”

“How about you Mandy, what has been the most difficult?

“I think just helping her understand that it’s OK,” explained Gill. “Lots struggle with it and she’s just very self-conscious that people are going to make fun of her or going to make her different.”

“And Mandy?”

“Seeing your child struggle and not knowing how to help them. Watching them be unhappy and cry, and not knowing what to do,” Woodbeck said. “Every parent wonders if their kid’s going to be OK.”

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