Parenting is a tough, full-time job regardless of the other ‘jobs’ we need to take on. Does your child throw tantrums, have meltdowns, or refuse to go to school? Do you observe some highs and lows that concern you but you don’t know who to talk to? Has your child’s sleeping and eating routines suddenly drastically changed? Speaking with other parents with child-rearing concerns can often help.

NAMI-CAN (National Alliance on Mental Illness Child and Adolescent Network) offers a support group for parents and primary caregivers of children with behavioral, emotional and mental health issues. In direct response to requests by parents and families in the Wilton, Weston, Redding, Ridgefield and surrounding areas, NAMI-CAN is starting a new group to service these communities. The first meeting will be Monday, July 28.

These groups are free to the public, confidential, and led by trained and certified volunteer facilitators who themselves have had personal experiences raising children with these concerns. Many of the observations parents observe are not necessary mental illness, but are things to consider and seek help. Mental illness is not something parents want to consider as even a remote possibility, much less a reality with young children; however, sometimes the symptoms, behaviors, and information from the children themselves make adults keenly aware that something is off.

“What we now know is that, the earlier signs and symptoms of mental health issues are identified in a child or adolescent, and the sooner intervention occurs, the better the prognosis is for an individual,” says Kate Mattias, executive director NAMI Connecticut.

NAMI-CAN support groups reassure parents and family members that they are not alone. Sitting in a room, surrounded by other parents, going through similar experiences, and who understand, firsthand, from their own experiences and are there to support you, enables you to regain a sense of power and ability to manage the situation.

“My son was 3-years-old when his preschool informed us that they were concerned,” says Lorraine Zegibe, NAMI support group leader, trainer, and volunteer coordinator. “Initially they suspected hearing problems because he was unaware of things around him and would wander off. When he was 5-years-old, he was diagnosed with depression.”

Dawn Schneider, co-leader for the NAMI-CAN Wilton group with Sheryl Kayne, and who was instrumental in bringing NAMI-CAN to Fairfield County, explains that NAMI-CAN helps to inform people about resources available in the community.

“Besides the NAMI-CAN support group, we offer a Basics six week class, starting in the fall, free for parents, where you can learn how to keep good records,” she explains, “which are very helpful to have when dealing with doctors and schools.”

After Monday, July 28, the meetings thereafter will be held on the fourth Monday of every month from 10-11:30 a.m. in the Gilbert & Bennett Cultural Center, (49 New St. in Georgetown). All are welcome to attend. For further information contact co- leaders Dawn Schneider at 203.249.5935 or Sheryl Kayne via email.