Julie used to stay up Googling about her son’s behavior — but our Parents as Teachers program helped her learn he was struggling with anxiety. Now, she has strategies to help her be the best mom she can be. “It really helped me to know my child, said Julie.”
Mason, now 6, and his mom, Julie, have worked with the Parents as Teachers Oakland Family Services home-visiting program in Rochester Hills, MI since he was an infant.
Right from the beginning, Julie wanted to make sure that her identical twin boys were receiving the services they needed to optimize their development.
Mason and Carter were born prematurely at 34 weeks gestation, and the Rochester Hills family first came to Oakland Family Services for Early On when the boys were infants.
“They were slow to crawl, and then speech was another big [area of focus],” Julie said. “Because they were preemies, we were just keeping up on making sure they were developing and having the resources when they needed it.”
Early On provides services through three years of age, but when the twins graduated, Julie wanted to keep Mason engaged in services for his behavior and speech delay. Oakland Family Services pointed her to Parents as Teachers’ home-visiting program where the family worked closely with a parent educator to address the twins’ behavioral and developmental concerns.
One of Julie’s top concerns was getting Mason to stop hitting. She would find herself trying to Google information about Mason’s behavior and ending up deep in rabbit holes. She even wondered if Mason might have autism spectrum disorder.
As the family worked through Parents as Teachers, Julie learned that some of the behavioral issues she was seeing were tied to anxiety. Mason’s speech delay added another dimension, as he wasn’t able to communicate his feelings and acted out in frustration.
“Through the program, I really discovered him,” Julie said. “It really helped me to know my child. He struggles with anxiety. He struggles with self-confidence, but I honestly wouldn’t have known that and gotten to that place without the program.”
Anxiety presents differently in children than it does in adults. For Mason, it comes out in behaviors like acting wild, not listening, and hoarding toys. Starting school was a big trigger for his anxiety.
“The biggest thing that came out of [Parents as Teachers] is figuring out what was causing all his behaviors,” Julie said. “Anything that I noticed him starting, we’d analyze it, figure out, ‘OK, why is he doing this?’”
Parents Educator Brittany Kenerson gave Julie new tools to help develop Mason, like making chore charts, setting goals, and finding other ways to work on independence.
“Julie was great at asking specific questions, looking for information, and working together to come up with a plan for her and Mason,” Kenerson said. “She was honest about her concerns and where Mason’s progress stood. This allowed us to come up with realistic strategies to help Mason.”
Alongside Parents as Teachers, Mason continued to receive speech services through his school district. His communication has improved, but often his emotions come out through his actions instead of verbally.
While he still struggles with anxiety and self-confidence, Julie feels better equipped to recognize and respond to his behaviors.
“I definitely have the tools for how I react to it, and being cognizant of, ‘OK this behavior is linked to him struggling with this change or this situation,’ and now I’m able to approach it in a way that he needs me to be comfortable,” she said.
Parents as Teachers helped Julie identify ways to build Mason’s confidence. For example, she has found that although Mason isn’t much of a team sports player, he excels in karate.
“He’s more of a single, ‘I’m-gonna-do-well-myself’ type of person, but I wouldn’t know that unless that’s something that we went through with the program,” she said.
Now six years old, Mason is ready to enter kindergarten after completing Young 5s last year. For the first time, he and Carter will be in separate classes, which Julie hopes will be helpful for Mason’s self-esteem and independence.
Julie urges parents to try to resist scouring the Internet for information about their child’s development and instead turn to experts like Parents as Teachers’ parent educators.