In a recent podcast (episode #398), I discussed a question I was asked recently: should we have mental health days at school?
We all go through difficult times, and we all battle with “mental health.” If there is a mental health day, it should be something that raises awareness that all people suffer from the “human condition”, that emotions like sadness, stress, grief and unhappiness are a normal part of life, and that we are here to help one another. This should not be a day to stigmatize some people with the label of “mentally ill” and deem others as “normal”.
We should use a “mental health day” as a means of teaching children how to manage stress and anxiety daily. For example, we should teach our children that stress can actually be good for them, as it prepares their bodies for action and helps them get ready to take a test or run a race. However, if they are constantly stressed, it can have a negative impact on their mental and physical health, so it is important to take days off and rest, such as spending the day playing board games with their loved ones or going to the dog park with their pets. Children, like adults, need to be taught how to cope mentally with the demands of life, and mental health days can be times where they can earn to do this.
Does this mean that exhaustion or “just not feeling like it” are acceptable reasons to take the day off and skip school? This will depend on what is going on in your child’s life. We should always listen (in a non-judgmental and loving way) to our child’s story — what they are going through and what is happening in their life. We need to learn to tune into our children, but we will also need to teach them to manage the ups and downs of life (including through positive lifestyle habits such as sleeping well, eating well and moving often) and how to turn scary things like tests into something challenging and exciting.
Most importantly, as parents, teachers and guardians, we need to be careful not to put too much pressure on our children to get straight As and be at the top of their class all the time. This can easily put a child into toxic stress and make them hate school. We need to teach our kids that working hard and giving school our best is the most important thing, not necessarily what grades we get.
And, if your child is really struggling and needs just a day to sleep in and talk, let them! But make this an exception to the rule, not a commonplace…