Six-year-old Baylee Finney began struggling with anxiety when her parents separated in 2017. With the help of extracurricular activities and a kindergarten teacher who provides moral support and encouragement, this little girl is finding the strength to blossom socially.

“Baylee has always been shy, kind-hearted, and closed-off,” says mom Karisa. When her parents chose to go their separate ways in 2017, her anxiety worsened. Behavior management produced mixed results, but the family found a solution this past September when Baylee enrolled in cheerleading classes at Rushmore Athletics. 

“Cheerleading builds confidence,” Karisa explains. “We let her know it takes practice and nobody is perfect at first.” They were already noticing positive results by October, when Baylee began to get her routines down. Since then, she has been happier and able to cope with her anxiety better. Her mom credits the structure cheerleading provides with playing a key role in Baylee’s turnaround, as well as the constant praise she receives from family members, teammates and instructors. She practices once a week for an hour, and if she continues to show improvement, Karisa is confident her daughter can move into competitive cheer by May. Baylee’s favorite activities in class include cartwheels and tumbling. 

Another positive role model in Baylee’s life has been her kindergarten teacher, Miss Wilson. The Pinedale Elementary teacher understands anxiety and is knowledgeable in ways to overcome it, so she is able to work closely with Baylee and teach her coping strategies. 

For her part, Karisa tries to encourage her daughter by teaching her to overcome body-image issues and is always telling her how smart she is. “Not enough parents do that,” she laments. 

Beyond cheerleading, Baylee has expressed interests in softball, gymnastics, and dance. The family is even considering enrolling her in vocal lessons. She’s a very good singer, though too shy to perform in front of others. In her spare time, Baylee enjoys art (especially drawing; “she’s pretty good for a six-year-old,” Karisa gushes), dancing, and reading. She’s also smart, having distinguished herself as one of the top students in her class. When she grows up, Baylee says, “I want to be a pet doctor.” Her mom is happy to encourage her career aspirations, but admits at this age, they are constantly evolving. “Last year, she wanted to be Barbie when she grew up,” Karisa says with a laugh. 

No matter what she ultimately ends up doing, with the confidence boost cheerleading is providing at this early age, Baylee is sure to succeed! 

 

WORDS: MARK PETRUSKA
PHOTOS: SARAH RICHARDS