My son has always been a feelings kid. He loves people and holds space for their stories, always asking about how their day’s going, if something’s wrong, why they’re smiling, and so on. He’s also incredibly social, an off-the-charts extrovert with hundreds upon hundreds of questions for anyone who’ll listen.
And as his parents, we can’t help but look for little pieces of ourselves in him, like how he’s extroverted like me, and inquisitive like Will. Then at some point, I thought I saw hints of anxiety similar to the kind I see in myself. But I didn’t want to project, you know; I didn’t want to assume that because he and I are similar and I struggle with anxiety, that he, too, will struggle with anxiety.
But I kept noticing actions or words from him that felt and sounded all too familiar, such as:
- getting lost in a thought spiral
- difficulty with letting something go (a thought, a question, a negative remark)
- crying when others cry
- unable to move on until a situation is “perfectly” fixed
- overwhelmed by ‘what-ifs’
- hyper-empathizing with real and pretend (movies, shows) people who encounter sadness or fear
- choosing the same movies and shows, uninterested in adding new ones or revisiting old ones that have created or could create emotional stress
- difficulty sleeping
Deciding to Visit a Child Psychologist
I wasn’t sure what else I could do for him that would be helpful and age-appropriate. When I mentor an individual through anxiety and panic attacks, I use adult language to ask questions, create visualizations, provide feedback, and set goals. But to mentor a child, let alone my own? I didn’t know how to handle that.
In the same way, I also didn’t want to put my kid through unnecessary emotional stress, be it at a friend’s house, at school, or among the public. So, I asked around, wrote a few emails, and found a highly recommended Child Psychologist.
Upon request, the first appointment was between the psychologist and me. She asked me about his personality, his likes, dislikes, his behavior at home and school and with his friends, and what I’d observed from him that led me to contact her. I fully appreciated this solo appointment as it allowed me to see her face, hear her voice, get a feel for her office and process, and talk openly about my concerns without a filter.
At the second appointment and third appointment, the psychologist tested his IQ. The fourth appointment took place a week after his IQ testing, and for this appointment, she asked that I come alone to discuss all that she had discovered. She walked me through his results which showed he had an average score, right along with other kids his age, in every category except for Logic & Reasoning. His Logic & Reasoning score was way above average, and that, she told me, is why he and others with high Logic & Reasoning abilities struggle with anxiety. Because from the moment they wake up until the moment their thoughts finally let them rest, their brains go and go and go and go. If this, then that… If this, then that…
To close, the psychologist told me that, all in all, my son is a healthy, happy kid. She said he’s doing well for now, but if we don’t proactively help him learn the tools necessary for managing his worries and emotions, he will likely develop an Anxiety Disorder. So for our fifth appointment, she brought Will and me in together, without our son, to create a plan to help him manage his anxiety. After we decided on which route to take, I brought him in for the sixth appointment in which the psychologist introduced him to two materials:
- What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner, Ph.D.
- The MINDUP Curriculum: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning—and Living
No parent wants their child or children to be perceived a certain way because they’ve seen or regularly visit a psychologist. But therein lies the perpetual problem with the mental health conversation: If we continue to ignore, hide, and run from ‘mental health,’ nothing changes, prolonging the false narrative that the fluid state of our mental health is something to be ashamed of and discussed behind closed doors.
Holly Kooi is a certified life mentor, mental health educator, and mildly interesting speaker who believes in the power of authentic connection. A mother of two and wearer of one too many hats, Holly enjoys writing, gardening, and Zentangling for much needed relaxation and stress relief. Currently, she serves as the Curriculum and Content Developer for UShine and coaches junior varsity volleyball. She can be contacted through her website and social media channels.