What is a normal level of anxiety for a young child? All children go through challenges, adjustments, and changes as they grow up, but for some, life transitions can bring up feelings of worry, stress, and insecurity that feel overwhelming or even debilitating.
That’s what Karli Fallos, Brightline’s director of member support, witnessed her son Paxton go through as he grew from a toddler to a young boy. In this blog post, Karli tells us about her path towards finding the right care for Paxton – and how her own story helped her find her passion for helping other kids and families at Brightline.
By Karli Fallos
When our son Paxton first struggled to adjust to kindergarten, my husband and I figured it was just run-of-the-mill separation anxiety. Paxton had grown up spending so much time with us. When he was a baby, I stayed home with him and his siblings during the day, and worked in the evening while his dad looked after them. It seemed reasonable that he’d resist being apart from us to start. It was a big change for Paxton.
But as the weeks and months went on, Paxton’s anxiety continued to increase. His dad and I realized that what he was going through was not the same experience we had when his older brother started school just a few years prior. He had trouble making friends, was overly worried about disappointing his teacher, and worried about what was happening at home while he was away.
“What if my teacher got upset with me? Was my baby sister safe? Would my brother remember to find me at the end of the school day?”
These were just some of the typical thoughts that crossed his mind regularly, and he couldn’t shut them off. At night, he struggled to get to sleep as his head filled with worries for the next day. His anxiety became so bad that it caused him physical symptoms such as stomach pain and nausea. He dreaded school, and we began to dread sending him there.
That’s when my husband and I decided we needed to get help for Paxton. But effective care wasn’t easy to find. First, we got a counselor for Paxton to talk to, but it just wasn’t the right fit. The sessions were agonizing for him. My husband and I tried going to the sessions with him, but even then, Paxton just wasn’t comfortable enough to open up about what he had been going through.
In fact, just the act of going to the counseling session itself became a source of anxiety for Paxton. He was anxious that his friends might find out — he didn’t want anyone to know that he was seeing a therapist because he wanted to be what he perceived as “normal.” It became clear that traditional counseling just wasn’t the right fit for Paxton. In retrospect, virtual therapy probably would have worked much better.
While all this was going on, I was looking for a change in my own career. I wanted to do something where I felt like I was giving something back and contributing in a positive way. So when Brightline reached out, it really sparked something inside me. I loved that Brightline was focused on finding the root cause of behavioral health concerns in children and adolescents and trying to address those problems early on in life. I realized that if we’d had a resource like Brightline for Paxton years ago, we’d probably be in a very different place today.
Now, as Director of Member Support at Brightline, I get to help parents like myself find the right support — the kind of support that I struggled to find for Paxton. It’s so rewarding to support our frontline team and make sure families get the help they need – and it’s my team’s job to make sure that this help is delivered to families as smoothly and empathetically as possible.
Kids have always been a big part of my life, even before I had my own. Growing up, my mom ran a daycare, and I babysat a lot in high school and was a nanny in college. Thinking back, there are so many instances where Brightline’s services would have been a lifesaver for families I knew. Getting the kind of support that Brightline offers would have made all the difference in terms of outcomes for so many kids I’ve known throughout my life. That’s why it’s so gratifying and inspiring for me today to get to work at a place like Brightline.
Paxton still struggles with anxiety at times. He recently started attending a large middle school after attending a very small elementary school where he knew everyone, so that has presented its own set of challenges recently. However; I’ve been better equipped as a parent to help Paxton manage his anxiety now that I have so many more tools available through my work at Brightline. I love that Brightline offers so many resources to help kids and parents beyond therapy. It’s great that I’m able to take what I’m learning in my day job and apply it at home with Paxton and his siblings, too.
Had Brightline existed when Paxton was younger, I can say that it would have made a tremendous difference in his development and growth, aided me in parenting a child with anxiety, and prevented the anxiety issues from becoming all-consuming. Today, I love that I help other families get support as early as possible in their child’s journey.
Karli Fallos is Brightline’s Director of Member Support and a proud mom of three. She is a graduate of Roger Williams University. Throughout her career, she has led numerous support teams in her home state of Maine, where she resides with her husband and children.