What is a parent to do when a child clearly says, “I don’t want to go to school today.” It might be a problem with a stomach or headache or illness that sometimes seems to disappear in a very short period of time. It’s not easy knowing how to react and what action to take. The adult might feel frustrated and helpless, unsure of how best to help the child or how to figure out what is really going on. The child might be anxious about something that he or she cannot explain.
Parents might be concerned that there are academic or social pressures or wonder if the child feels bullied or unsafe in school.
A discussion on the topic is being held in Wilton, sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Child and Adolescent Network (CAN), a Wilton support group for parents and primary caregivers of children with behavioral, emotional and mental health issues.
Parents are invited to attend the program on Monday, Feb. 23 at 7-8:30 p.m. in the Gilbert & Bennett Cultural Center, 49 New St., when a panel of experts working with children of all ages will shed some light and understanding on these issues.
Colleen Fawcett, L.C.S.W., Wilton’s youth services coordinator for the past 20 years will speak on school refusal and different things to consider when dealing with it.
“School avoidance can be a problem at any age for a variety of reasons,” Fawcett says.
Organizers say the subject needs to be discussed and understood not only by parents and other concerned adults, but also by the students affected by and experiencing it. Questions of what to look for, what’s within the typical range of behavior and what’s not, when to be concerned and what to do about it will be addressed.
Additional panelists include professionals working with Kids in Crisis (KIC, based in Greenwich), who will provide information on how they work with youth, families, local providers and schools. Two of their Teen Talk Counselors working in Ridgefield High School and Central Middle School will be in attendance in addition to a Crisis Services Counselor to address school anxieties affecting students of all ages.
The NAMI-CAM organizers cite recent research findings that, “school refusal behavior occurs in approximately 5-10 percent of children ages 6 to 17.” For these students, feelings of anxiety, depression or fear makes it very difficult to attend school and manage the academic and social stresses.
“By working right within the schools, a TeenTalk student outreach counselor is an extra set of eyes and ears dedicated to detecting and addressing the needs of children who might otherwise fly under the radar,” says Sarah Bochet, KIC’s clinical director of children’s services. “The presence of an understanding teacher or the availability of other support systems in the school may increase a student’s opportunity to develop important coping skills.”
Seating for the program is limited, and registration is encouraged by emailing Sheryl Kayne or calling 203.858.7491.
NAMI-CAN’s Wilton offers a free monthly support group for parents and caregivers of children up to age 17, which meets the fourth Monday of each month. The next meeting will be on Feb. 23 from 10-11:30 a.m. in the G & B Cultural Center; the panel on Understanding School Refusal Behavior will meet that same evening at 7-8:30 p.m.