Mental Health Days for Children
Adults use mental health days to recharge, refocus, and reduce stress with the ultimate goal to return to normal activities more focused. Producing high-quality work takes its toll and dedicated rest and recuperation are necessary to ensure whole health and wellness. As mental health illness becomes a rising problem in the workplace, resulting in more missed days and poorer work performance, the cost to employers rises as well. Not only do employees miss work due to mental illness, but its associated effects alone cost companies billions of dollars each year. Spending time to recharge is much more beneficial and cost-effective than confronting a more serious health issue down the road.
But what about our children?
Mental health days are great for adults dealing with the stressors of life, but what about children? Should they too be allowed to take a day off of school and bill it as a mental health day? Though their lives aren’t stressful in the same way as adults, children still go through things from an inexperienced perspective that are rough. Kids and teens are learning how to navigate the world while their bodies change and their brain tries to keep up. They are surrounded by adults giving them advice. And they are surrounded by peers and the media offer their own conflicting and inconsistent guidance. Between schoolwork, activities, friends, and family, they are also dreaming of a future that is filled with caution and warning at every turn. Not too mention, anxiety, depression, bullying, or other challenges that exist. Kids and teens face a fair amount of stress, even if they aren’t responsible for a monthly mortgage payment. And when the going gets tough, they don’t always have the choice to step back and take a break, which is why they may sometimes bluff an illness.
It is important for children to power through some discomfort. Going to school when afraid of an upcoming presentation or facing their peers when they didn’t complete their portion of the group project, is not always easy. But there is value, and a wonderful lesson when one learns that they are stronger than they think.
Keeping your child at home when they have the flu is one thing. But keeping them at home for mental health reasons is another–plus it is much more difficult to recognize. When children are struggling to function and going to school will make it worse, a mental health day may be appropriate under special circumstances. Allowing a mental health day could reinforce to them that it is vital to take care of their minds and bodies. Providing them an opportunity to sharpen their emotional skills and build the mental muscle to stay strong, may just be what the doctor ordered.
But before parents start handing out the day-off pass, keep some things in mind. A day missed from school, can not always be recovered. The fear of falling behind or the fear of becoming more overwhelmed and anxious must be considered. Some children experience stress and anxiety surrounding school. But this could be an issue that is not solved by taking a mental health day. If anxiety is the result of bullying, a mental health day is not always the answer. Instead a teacher, principal, or school counselor should become involved.
Is Taking a Mental Health day coddling?
Many people believe that children are coddled and that we are living with a generation of youth composed of delicate and fragile souls. That they are incapable of advancing through life without constant adult supervision and cannot handle the inevitable challenges that life will bring. So what does providing a mental health day to this coddled generation teach them?
With mental health and medical costs on the rise despite advances in healthy living trends, new diets, mental health awareness campaigns, and an enhanced focus on the need to stay sharp, emotionally and physically, we live in a society that doesn’t prioritize self-care. Children and adults reach the point of burnout. They suffer health consequences of overextending themselves and retreat to self-medicating habits. Many of which lead to addictions that numb the pain and provide temporary relief.
Teaching children to work hard, strive for excellence, and to do their best is paramount. But equally important is teaching them the ability to listen to themselves and to know when danger is imminent. Understanding their body and recognizing when a break is necessary is more important than a lesson or two in spelling and algebra. And it can save their life from spiraling out of control or ending sooner than expected.
Children are small and as adults, we equate their stature to the size of the problems they face. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. But like adults, children may need a day off too. It is important to teach them that their mental health is important and provide them the tools to take on life’s challenges. Recognizing when a break is necessary and empowering them to make a decision for self-care is important. We cannot prevent all mental health problems, nor can we prevent physical illness, but we can show them how to build mental strength so they are emotionally fit.