Kids need Mental Health days too!

Author: Dr Annemarie Christie

Sometimes it’s ok for kids to stay home from school. Even when they’re not sick.

Last week I was driving my son to school when I noticed something was not quite right. He’s a good kid and loves school but that day he just seemed a little out of sorts. In fact for a few days, he hadn’t quite been himself. But he wasn’t sick. He was a bit teary and clearly a little overwhelmed. I knew he was tired and I knew that he had a tendency to put a bit too much pressure on himself. I also knew that I had been really busy in the last couple of weeks and we hadn’t had much time together to connect and relax.

So I did something very radical.

I suggested that we have a day off together.

Immediately I could see the weight lift from his shoulders. He relaxed.

It’s easy to think that kids lives are simple and uncomplicated. But they are busy too – constantly learning and growing. Kids are continually developing their social skills and often dealing with mean behaviour or bullying. Kids are constantly battling and regulating their emotional responses and are often frustrated. Kids are under constant pressure to perform academically and at least 10% will have a learning difficulty. There are constant expectations from parents, grandparents and friends – often conflicting with one another. And then there are the after school sports and activities. The learning is not limited to the classroom but takes place every waking moment.

We, as adults, perceive their problems to be small and insignificant. We often dismiss them without further thought.

There are, of course, bigger things for us to worry about.

We are often told that kids should not have days off school. Recently, there have been numerous communications from the Department of Education stressing the importance of regular school attendance. Parents have been told not to take family holidays during school term. We feel guilty whenever we keep our kids home. Due in part to this message, children are now being sent to school even when unwell because parents are worried about keeping them home. This is wrong on so many levels, not least of which is that sick kids at school are contagious and share their germs. This could in part account for our particularly bad flu season this year!

Of course we should stay at home when we are sick.

But sometimes we just need a day off. And so do our kids.

Now let’s be clear…

I am not advocating regular absences from school. I am however suggesting that every now and then (generally 1-2 days per term), it may be beneficial for your child to have a mental health day.

Studies have shown that anxiety and major depressive illness in school-age children are on the rise. Our lifestyles are changing rapidly and our kids are being compromised.

We, as parents, need to recognise when our kids are getting stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. We need to ensure that they have time with us to just be themselves and relax. We need to provide them the opportunity to play, explore and create.

This is critical for their mental health and development. It’s important for kids to work hard and do their best but it is just as important that they learn to recognise when they need to take a break.