Ah, mental health days. We can use them from time to time, right? Our busy lives can often make us feel as if we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off. Sometimes, we just need one day to stop, take a breath and find some peace. So, we pick up the phone and call in to work or schedule a day off in advance.
But what about our kids? Would you let your son or daughter stay home from school “just because”?
One mom, Claire Gillespie, wrote about her willingness to keep her kids home for “personal days” on Parents.com. Gillespie takes a no-apologies approach to her decision.
“Both my kids love school, so if they pretend to be sick or don’t want to go, I know something’s up,” she wrote. “They might just need a day at home with their mom—a day away from a classroom of other kids, playground dramas, and peer pressure.”
Gillespie said she only allowed her kids to stay home three times during the previous school year. And, when they stay home, the kids have guidelines they have to follow, including no screen time and required outdoor playtime. While she doesn’t worry about her kids’ overall mental health, she believes prioritizing it is “just as important as getting them vaccinated against disease and treating them for physical ailments.”
Experts Weigh In On Mental Health Days For Kids
About 25 percent of adolescents experience some type of an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet mental health experts remain split on their feelings about mental health days for kids.
“Keeping kids home for a mental health day is sticky business,” said Rachel Kazez, a licensed clinical social worker. “One of the main reasons to keep a kid home for physical illness is to help them recover faster and to prevent the transfer of contagious infections. A mental health day is often about neither or those.”
Licensed Medical Health Counselor Noah Rubinstein said that while allowing occasional mental health days for kids to recoup can be okay, parents should keep a close eye on a deeper problem.
“It could be your child is facing anxiety issues, and may benefit from seeing a counselor to work through them,” he said.
Rubinstein added that bullying and academic struggles could contribute to a child’s desire to stay home. Again, you know your child best.
And that’s where my experience with kids’ mental health days comes in.
Reaching The Breaking Point
As a former teacher, I place a high priority on my children’s education. I try to balance being involved in their academic progress with not hovering. Although I’m sure my girls wouldn’t entirely agree with me about how hands-off I am sometimes (I’m working on it, I swear), I admit that being a teacher’s kid can be difficult.
My youngest daughter just finished her freshman year of high school. She has excellent grades. However, she sometimes gets herself into stressful situations because of procrastination and perfectionism. I typically push her through these bumps in the road and we move on (usually with both of us exhausted over the battles).
The transition into high school was not as smooth as I anticipated. My daughter had all advanced classes, and daily homework times climbed to at least three to four hours a night. Yet, we pushed on. By early October, my 14-year-old hit a wall. This girl who normally loved school had to be pushed into doing anything. Her attitude went from typical teen to withdrawn and exhausted.
One morning, she said she “didn’t feel well.” I confess, I thought she was faking it. After going back and forth, the girl had a full-blown emotional meltdown. Again, not the ordinary overblown teen drama I’d experienced before. She sobbed and sobbed. I sat there, stunned.
After I calmed her down, I told her she could stay home. At first, I felt like I got played. Maybe I was becoming too soft. Maybe I should have told her to suck it up and get through the day.
However, during that mental health day, my daughter and I figured out the source of her anxiety. Her class load had become too much for her to handle. She felt like a failure, even though her grades were fine. Of course, I told her that wasn’t the case. Taking four 10th grade classes just wasn’t a good fit for her. We scheduled an appointment with her counselor and eventually adjusted her classes. Dropping one advanced class made all the difference.
Had I not decided to allow my daughter to stay home that day, I wouldn’t have learned the truth. Who knows how long or how much things would have gone downhill?
Learning To Be Flexible
After that day, I promised I would be a little more aware of my daughter’s emotional well-being. Also, a little flexibility wouldn’t hurt either.
A few months ago, my oldest daughter came home from college for spring break. She wanted to take her sister to a concert about 90 minutes away, but it was a school night. The old me would have said they could go, but would have to be home that night to avoid missing school.
This time, I insisted they take the entire evening to have a sisters-only trip. They stayed the night out of town, so I knew they were safe after the show. I called my youngest daughter in the next day. It was only the second day she’d missed all year at that point. Life would go on if she wasn’t in class the next day. And of course, it did.
Am I saying that this is what everyone should do? No. My way isn’t the best way. It’s just how I do things. However, I think staying flexible when it comes to raising kids can make a difference. Some things should be firm in a family, like rules about behavior. I learned, though, that kids can benefit from taking a day here and there to recharge. My daughter knows mental health days won’t become a regular thing and my expectations for her remain high.
Parents, you can keep your boundaries. Just work within them when you can.