'You empower each other': Mother-son team start childhood anxiety support group in Regina

Sharon Pratchler and her 10-year-old son know what it's like to struggle to cope with childhood anxiety, and not know where to go for help.

So Pratchler and her son, Graeme Irvine, are putting their newest idea to work: to start a support group based in Regina for anxious parents, raising children who have anxiety.

"It's very important to us, to tell other parents, they're not isolated, they're not alone," Sharon Pratchler said.

"They need to have a community of people who share the understanding of what they're going through because frankly, mental illness is so ill-understood, it's astonishing."

The first gathering for the group takes place on Oct. 27 at St. Paul's Community Centre in Regina. Pratchler has also started a closed Facebook group, which she said has seen an explosion in interest not just in Saskatchewan, but beyond.

"Our hopes are already starting to come true," she said, explaining that when people talk openly about anxiety, others come out to show their support.  

"And by sharing the story, and building that community, you empower each other."

Submitted by Sharon Pratchler

Bullying triggers anxiety 

Pratchler recalls that before Graeme started kindergarten, his anxiety started manifesting when he attended things like community soccer. He'd sometimes take off from games to avoid stress.

"We knew there was something but they're so little, you don't know what it is," she said.

But when her son started negatively reacting to events at school, like repeated bullying and violence, his parents realized he had anxiety.

The family tried a number of different ways to support Graeme. They tried different school environments and even home-schooling him for a brief period of time.

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Small actions help with coping

Now he attends Crescents School, where Pratchler says small actions help her son function and cope.

Teachers and staff can help by doing small things, like sending him a text message on the days where he is struggling, or by allowing him to come to the classroom before students arrive to orient himself.

"You have to invest time to make that connection, and you have to demonstrate caring," she said.

Another key thing some schools are introducing is staggered recesses, in which the teacher looks to cues from the class on when they need a break rather than the whole school taking scheduled breaks together, according to Pratchler.

"Those sort of accommodations which don't cost any money, but they're all about mindset, and they're all about being flexible — and not saying, that's the way we've always done it — those things are key for kids with anxiety," she said.

As for Graeme, he has simple advice for other adults and parents who are raising children with anxiety.

"They need to just be themselves," he said. "Just try to give them what they need, to help."

with files from Morning Edition host Stefani Langenegger