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Kids Need Mental Health Days Too

My daughter woke up one recent Wednesday morning and I could see immediately that she seemed a little extra tired.  Mama, I don’t want to go to school today.  I felt her head – no fever thankfully.  I responded with the typical mom question – Does anything hurt?   My girl said My throat hurts.  And my stomach hurts. Both of my kids know that the minute they say “stomach,” I panic.   I spread towels out over the floor and strategically place garbage pails around the house.  They know it “gets” me crazy.  This time I held back with that process and started the whole “You have to go to school today, etc…” but I stopped myself.   I thought – maybe she needs a mental health day?

I asked her to fess up about her pains and she admitted to not having any.  I went down the checklist – is something in school bothering you?; anything due that you didn’t complete?; spelling test today?   The answer was “no” to all questions.  I didn’t offer it as a treat, but I agreed that she could stay home because she was a little “blah.”   It wouldn’t be a “fun” day, as she would not play video games or watch YouTube on her iPad all day.  Her options were resting, reading, drawing and watching a little TV.  She also was able to play with some of the toys, like Barbie, that she hardly pays any attention to on a regular basis because of the attraction to the aforementioned electronic devices.   I made sure she understood that I had work to do, including a few conference calls.  And there it was – my daughter was officially taking a mental health day.

Quick sidebar here – don’t bash me because I used the term “mental health day.”  As someone who suffered from postpartum depression, I completely understand not to use the word “mental” flippantly.  But for ease of communication and easy understanding, I will continue to use it here.

My daughter is 8 and in 2nd grade, so it doesn’t seem like a stressful environment – to me anyway.  But who knows?  It’s been quite a long time since I’ve been 8 and in 2nd grade. Who says that kids don’t need a little downtime?  Her mind and little body could feel stressed from the day in/day out.  Taking a mental health day can let you recharge and allow your body and mind to rest.  Almost like a reset button.  Who is to say that an 8 year old doesn’t need one of those once in a while?    Could they use a day to recoup?  Sure, why not?  Adults would certainly say we need one or two (or three) on occasion.

To continue on my mission for the Mother of the Year Award, that Friday – just two days later – I let my 6th grade son stay home. He had a few baseball games during the week that ended late, Hebrew School and a big project that was due the day before that he did a pretty kick ass job on. He was physically exhausted and did have the sniffles, but normally that’s no excuse to stay home either.   He actually didn’t even ask.  I just offered it up.  Needless to say, there was not much of a fight there!

My children are not over-scheduled, but they do have some extracurricular activities during the week after school, such as sports, scouts or religion.  Then squeeze in homework, dinner, and a shower – besides sleep, when is their opportunity for true rest and relaxation? When do they get to do nothing?

Weekends you say?  Well, we adults make more plans on most weekends than we ourselves can handle!  Weekends do not offer much free time.  Often we’re running around from event to event or errand to errand.  Two “off” days to squeeze in anything we couldn’t accomplish during the week.  There are often birthday parties, further sports game and family obligations on the weekends as well.  Is one day off from school once in a blue moon going to hurt anyone?

Truth be told, their mental health days helped me out a bit too.  One less child to/from the bus stop.  One less lunch to make. This was an opportunity to be with my kids without the morning rush, running an errand or harping on homework. It was a great feeling for all of us  – and a little more breathing time for mama is always a plus.

I’m not about to make this a standard practice in my home, but I would certainly do it again if they needed it.  My daughter woke up the next day and was “ready” to go to school.  She excitedly spoke about taking out new books from the school library and what “special” she had in school that day. No dragging, no complaints – she wanted to go. I believe her mental health day helped and gave her a little renewed energy.

This all said, if either one of my kids continued to ask to stay home from school, I wouldn’t take it lightly.  Something may be going on at school that is causing extra anxiety. Or maybe they’re having trouble in a certain subject.  Peer pressure and bullying are unfortunately ever present as well.  We’d definitely have a deeper conversation.

Whether you are 8, 11 or 46, there are different reasons why we may need a day off.  This doesn’t mean shirking your responsibilities or your school work – but we all deserve to have some time to just “to be.”   A lot of times, it can make a world of difference.

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