Help for Kids with Anxiety {Mental Health Awareness Month}

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My anxiety began, or at least became clear, when I was in sixth grade. For my son, it began in first grade.

We’re in the painful middle of this mental health journey right now. Not the end, where it’s all buttoned up with an encouraging success story.

Nonetheless, I’m inviting you into this messy middle in case the resources we’ve found could be of any help to someone you love.

anxiety

Our son’s anxiety shows up unpredictably, every day, in the form of yelling and inconsolable crying. We call it an emotional hijacking. There is no reasoning with him until long after it passes.

This is our creative, smart and kind kid, who meets his school benchmarks and maintains a circle of friends. He loves being outside, playing with his sibling, and staging elaborate races with his Hot Wheels track. He lights up at the beauty of a tiny flowering weed. He draws pictures for friends when they’re sad. He is a rule follower.

The wild swings between these two opposing states are baffling to us. And exhausting. It’s heartbreaking when you can’t fix your child’s ache with a kiss and a Band-Aid.

So, we are exploring every possible resource to help him thrive and to restore peace in our home. We’re trying to understand where this is coming from. What caused it? Why now? Is it something we did? Is it something we’re not doing? Is it a chemical imbalance? Is it genetic?

In case you’re in a similar struggle, you are not alone.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. As a result, mental health providers are overwhelmed, but you can still find support.

Here are the resources we’ve found so far:

Play therapy. This approach uses play and a room full of toys designed to guide kids through real-life situations. This helps them identify feelings, worries and challenges and find appropriate ways to solve problems and self-regulate. Our counselor also equipped us as parents with tools and new approaches to guide him through difficult moments.

Pediatric in-office counseling. Our pediatrician’s office has four on-staff counselors available for counseling with just parents or one-on-one with kids. They also have handouts with helpful mindfulness apps and local resources.

School psychologist and counselor. Our school psychologist provided external resources for support and connected us with the school counselor, who invited our son to join a weekly lunch group on emotional regulation. We also spoke with our son’s teacher, who shared her son’s experience with anxiety and gave us encouragement, despite his issues not presenting at school.

Friends’ shared experiences. Don’t be afraid to share your struggles with trusted friends. The more I share, the more I understand the prevalence of these challenges among kids. We can normalize mental health struggles by sharing our stories.

Children’s picture books. A Little Spot of Feelings by Diane Albers. Roaring Mad Riley by Allison Szczecinski. Exploring Emotions by Paul Christelis. My Day is Ruined! by Bryan Smith. We found all these at our local library, and they gave us new ways of talking through situations and feelings.

Children’s hospital evaluation. The above-mentioned resources are all part of our parenting toolbox. We decided to take the next step of identifying a diagnosis to best help our son. He is scheduled for an official evaluation to test for anxiety and determine next steps to support his mental health.

Full disclosure: I am not a mental health professional, and I’m sharing this story anonymously not because there is shame here, but out of respect for my child’s privacy. I’m sharing so you know you are not alone, your child is not the only one, and there is help.

As you walk this journey with your child, here are two final bits of advice.

One, remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Give yourself extra grace and care in this season. The unknown, the waiting, the trial and error… this can all take a toll on you, too.

And two, remind yourself of all the things you love about your child. Dwell in gratitude for who they are.

My hope is you will find the support your family needs as you tap into the resources of the village that surrounds you.

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