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In preparation for the new school year, Amy Mazzone and her daughter have been trying to re-establish a routine. (©PHOTODISC - Royalty-Free)
In preparation for the new school year, Amy Mazzone and her daughter have been trying to re-establish a routine. (©PHOTODISC - Royalty-Free)

Pinpointing the triggers helps us tackle my daughter’s anxiety Add to ...

Amy Mazzone lives in Burnaby, B.C., and has used AnxietyBC’s resources to help her daughter Abby, who is starting Grade 4.

Abby started getting stomach aches at school last year. But as soon as I’d leave work and pick her up and bring her home, she’d be fine. So I thought maybe she was faking it, or perhaps it was due to something happening at school that was physical. She has arthritis and some hearing loss in one of her ears, so the medication can affect the stomach. Or sometimes if you can’t hear, it can be disorienting. But it wasn’t either of those things.

I thought the stomach aches would get better, but they just kept getting more persistent. She’d call me crying while I was at work. I felt terrible not to leave and pick her up. One day, I just thought, “This is enough.” My friend who is a nurse suggested I take her to the hospital. The doctor there gave some kind of ridiculous reason for her stomach aches, like she hadn’t gone to the bathroom. I was like, “I’m a mom. That’s the first thing I thought of: Have you pooped today? I’m pretty sure there’s something else going on.” So she referred us to a pediatrician.

The pediatrician didn’t really talk to Abby. She talked to me for about an hour and an half with Abby in the room, and then she said, “Well, I think she has [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder].” I said, “How can you say that? You haven’t even spoken to her.” So then I was frustrated.

I work in social services, but I work with young adults, age 19 and up, so I didn’t know where to start with Abby, who was in Grade 3. One of my friends in social services who does work with kids told me to go to a mental-health intake clinic, which is one day a week, from 10 a.m. to noon, and you can’t make an appointment, you just have to go there and chance it. So we did, and we talked to a social worker, who then referred us on to counselling. So that’s what we’re doing now.

It’s been really hard for us to pinpoint what triggers Abby’s anxiety. It often happens at school, so we don’t know what’s going on. Like, someone will be mean to her and her instant reaction is that something is wrong with her and she’s not good enough and it just spirals out of control. Other times, it might occur when she doesn’t understand everything right away or when she simply feels not in control of what’s happening.

She doesn’t talk about it too much unless she gets really, really upset. Then we can have a long conversation. But when it’s just something smaller, she’ll say, “I just didn’t feel good. I wanted to come home.” Then I have to really dig it out of her, but I also don’t want to make things worse.

We’ve had days when she’s just been inconsolable, crying. That’s a horrible feeling as a parent. We live in a world where we want to be able to fix everything, and we want to fix it right now. When you can’t do that, it’s really, really hard. And when she’s upset, I have to try really hard not to get upset too, because that will just make her more upset. Something very small can feel really huge in no time.

The counsellor Abby goes to is great. She’s taught her some tools to use. She taught her what’s called being a “thought detective” – so you figure out what the problem is, and basically make a pros-and-cons list. For example, Abby is really worried she’s not going to be in the same class this fall as some of the friends she’s been with since kindergarten. So we’ve talked about what if that happens? In preparation for the new school year, we’ve also been trying to re-establish a routine. She’s already been complaining a lot that her stomach hurts and that she feels really weird. So at bedtime, we’re talking about why does she feel weird? What does it feel like in her body? What does she think about? We’re just trying to identify what’s going on now, so hopefully, when school starts, it won’t be like last year, where we feel kind of clueless.

I’ve asked her counsellor to contact the school at the very beginning of the school year to give her teacher a rundown of what they’ve been working on and what tools Abby has learned. I plan to talk to the teacher right away too, so the teacher can encourage her to use those tools rather than call me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind coming to pick her up, but I don’t think that’s going to teach her anything in the long run.

The thing is Abby likes school a lot. She’s such a funny girl. She’s very confident in some areas, and very caring and social. But as soon as something kind of goes wrong, then that all goes away and she becomes upset and gets all these stomach issues.

I think anxiety is quite common in kids, and I think it’s important for little ones to know that they’re not weird because they get anxious. I try to reassure myself that if Abby learns these tools now when she is 8, she won’t be like the folks I work with now who are 22 and can’t leave their apartments. We’re working on it and she’s learning. I’m nervous about her going back to school, but I’m also excited to try our new tricks.

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