“My tummy hurts” he said as he chewed his fingernails, looking around wide-eyed. My son was almost 4 when we started to notice that he was experiencing paediatric anxiety. For the most part, he had been an easy infant, toddler and preschooler. He was quieter, observant and kind. He had a laugh that came right from his toes, and that chin dimple when he smiled was enough to make anyone’s heart melt.
Going into the year prior to him starting Junior Kindergarten, we began to notice a shift within him. He was struggling with transitions, very quick to get upset and became harder to console. He was chewing his nails, the collar of his coat, the cuff of his sleeves. He never wanted to leave our side, with the exception of play dates with a couple of very close friends and Grandparents but even then, he needed a detailed plan of events to come or we’d risk another meltdown. Any deviation to his normal routine had the potential to send him into a tail spin. That year prior to his JK year we couldn’t go anywhere that was too noisy, too bright, too crowded or too out of his normal routine, as we risked massive meltdowns filled with tears that, at times, would take up to an hour (sometimes longer) to come down from. Our poor boy was struggling and so were we.
As a Mom, an Early Childhood Educator, and a proud anxiety warrior-diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my adulthood, my “ah-ha moment” came when we were about to watch the Santa Clause parade in our hometown. We had found our seats amongst the rest of the town residents, the parade began. Everyone was a buzz with holiday excitement and the anticipation of seeing Santa. When I looked over at our Son, expecting to see a huge smile and that cute little chin dimple-I was taken aback when I saw tears rolling down his cheek as his hand clung to mine. My husband (Super-Dad) scooped him up and held him, reassuring him that everything was ok. The marching band came by next and he began to scream and cover his ears, shouting “I want to go home, no more parade-NO SANTA!” over and over. Quickly, we packed up and ducked into a near by store to help him calm down. His little body was shaking and his breathing was rapid through bursts of crying. In that moment, I recognized myself-a little girl with big worries that I wasn’t able to articulate, and I intuitively knew that our son was processing through paediatric anxiety. All the struggles from this last year had suddenly fell into place in my mind and I knew we had to do something to help him.
I went into Mama Bear research mode and very quickly connected with professionals in our community for support. Our family Doctor, Educators, Care providers and developmental therapists all offered their expertise and gave us fantastic tools that we could put into practice at home to help our son.
Anxiety is sneaky. It’s not a “one size fits all”, or a one triggered problem with a quick fix. Having anxiety as an adult, I have come to identify what my triggers are and how to work through high anxiety times with my own set of tools but having a child with anxiety at a young age was a different ball game. After working closely with a phenomenal child counselor, and my own personal experience, I began to feel more confident in my ability as a Mom to help my child navigate these big worries and keep his body calm. We found that labeling his emotions (happy, sad, scared, surprised, mad etc) and “checking in with our bodies” to see how the emotions made them feel (tummy, head, ears, mouth, eyes) we began to see his spark come back-he was beginning to take control back and not let his worries/ emotions overpower him.
As an Early Childhood Educator, I felt compelled to do something that would help others who may be faced with paediatric anxiety. I wrote and published a children’s picture book, called Sweet Honey Kisses for an Anxious Bear, in hopes that it will be enjoyed by families, caregivers and educators at home and in the classroom. This book helps to support conversations about worries and offers different tools that may help children work through anxiety provoking situations and overcome adversity. You can find more information on how to purchase my children’s book, on my website at www.christinefishman.com or on my Facebook at Christine Fishman-Author.
By talking about mental health issues of any kind, we educate others and advocate for those who feel they don’t have a voice; by talking about it, it helps others not feel alone. At almost 7, I can say that our Son has added few more coping skills in his “anxiety tool box” that he’s learned through life experience and being more in tune with his own thoughts and body. It’s empowering to watch him and his confidence grow as he becomes more emotionally self aware.
If you or any of the children in your life are struggling or showing any signs of anxiety (feeling overwhelmed, crying, difficulty with transitions, always feeling on edge, anger, sensory sensitivities, OCD, etc) I encourage you to reach out and speak with your doctor, a friend, an educator or a counselor. Together we can make a difference and be the change that our children need us to be. Remember that it’s ok to take a break. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to breathe. It’s ok not to be ok and it’s ok to be still. It’s OK. We’re all in this together. Just breathe, “because every little thing is gonna be alright”-Bob Marley.
Below are some informative resources for more information on paediatric anxiety.
Children’s Mental Health Ontario – http://www.cmho.org/
Canadian Paediatric Society – http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/
Anxiety Canada – https://www.anxietycanada.com/parenting/childhood-anxiety
Christine Fishman RECE