CAYA Family Education Chair Jamie Graves with seventh grade volunteers Avery Sealey, Carly Graves, and Amy Wade-Tiffner, from the CAYA family education committee. Photo by Jessica Steeley
BY JESSICA STEELEY
Clarkston News Staff Writer
Nervousness, restlessness, panic, increased heart rate, rapid breathing—all these are symptoms of anxiety.
Last week the Clarkston Area Youth Assistance (CAYA) held a family education seminar with speaker Dr. Karen Rusniak about understanding anxiety in young children.
Parents and teachers listened as Dr. Rusniak discussed the definition of anxiety, the symptoms, and how to help young children manage it.
“The purpose is to have an expert in the area of anxiety speak with parents and help them understand it better and how they can help their child better,” CAYA Family Education Chair Jamie Graves said.
Dr. Rusniak has been working in schools for over 20 years and has a private practice as well.
Children-specific anxiety symptoms include explosive outbursts, inattention and poor school performance, and repeated visits to parent’s room while sleeping.
Some anxiety in life is good and can be productive, she added, but it becomes a problem when it begins to interfere with daily life and activities.
Graves said CAYA is about prevention and programs like this help parents recognize anxiety in their child before a crisis.
“We have usually at least one, if not two, programs a month to help families in the Clarkston area,” she said.
During the seminar, Dr. Rusniak focused on separation anxiety and its prevalence in children. Children often feel this while away from their parents, such as during the school day. She explained it’s important to set parameters in this situation, allowing specific times during the day the child can call or text their parent.
Other disorders include selective mutism, phobias and social anxiety disorder. She stressed children with symptoms of anxiety should also be physically examined.
“It’s important to go to the doctor and rule out anything medical,” she said.
Dr. Rusniak added parents and guardians need to take care of themselves as well. Children are negatively affected by parental stress. Avoid extreme consequences with children and use positive reinforcement.
“It’s all about relationships. We want to have good relationships with our children,” Dr. Rusniak said.
Other tactics are creating a schedule for anxious children and having a plan when the schedule must be changed. She added to empower their children, validate their feelings, and collaborate with the school on their children’s needs.
The seminar covered toddlers through seventh graders, Graves said. CAYA is holding another understanding anxiety program for teenagers in grades 8-12, Nov. 18. For more information, check out their website at clarkstonya.org.