#JamesDonaldson On #MentalHealth – Should Kids Take #MentalHealthDays?


When taking a break is helpful (and when it’s not)

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

Rae Jacobson

What You’ll Learn

  • What are #mentalhealthdays?
  • When should kids take them — and when shouldn’t they?
  • How can you help kids make the most of #mentalhealthdays?

A #mentalhealthday is a day off from #school to rest and recharge. Giving kids the chance to take them — within reason —  can have big benefits. Here are some tips on when you should, and shouldn’t, let kids take a day off. And advice to help them get the most out of it when they do.  

When your #child asks to stay home, have a talk about why. Are they feeling sad? Overwhelmed? Did something bad happen at school? Once you know more, you’ll be able to decide if a day off is the best solution.

#Mentalhealthdays shouldn’t be used to avoid a touch assignment or a problem at #school. Skipping tests or hiding from conflict ends up making the problem bigger, not better. And avoiding things that make kids anxious makes the anxiety worse. Also, kids — especially younger #children and kids with #ADHD or learning differences — may need the support the #school routine provides.

On the other hand, a #mentalhealthday might be the right choice for a #child who’s emotionally raw after a breakup. Likewise, kids might need some time to recover after finishing a big project, or a test that required a lot of studying. #Children who’ve worked hard to overcome #anxiety or learning challenges can benefit from taking breaks.

But keep in mind that #mentalhealthdays should be one day, once in a while. Set limits and be clear about when kids can, and can’t, take a day off.

If you do agree to a #mentalhealthday, make sure it’s spent doing things that benefit your child’s #mentalhealth. For example, reading a relaxing book or taking a walk.  #Mentalhealthdays should not be to catch up on outstanding assignments or sink into #socialmedia. The goal is to help your #child learn the skills to care for their #mentalwellbeing.

“I don’t want to go to #school!” “Please, can I just stay home? Please.”

The please-don’t-make-me-go plea is a common refrain of childhood. So when kids start asking to stay home or give a little hopeful cough it can be tempting to roll your eyes, hand their back pack over, and point them out the door.

But, when your #child begs to stay home or asks for a day off, they may be trying to tell you that what they really need is a #mentalhealthday.

What are #mentalhealthdays?

Letting a #child who isn’t physically ill stay home, especially after so much disruption and #school loss, might feel wrong to most #parents. But in the wake of the #pandemic an unprecedented number of #children and #teenagers are struggling with #mentalhealthissues. And caring for kids’ emotional well-being is as important as caring for their health.

Taking #mentalhealthdays — that is, time at home to rest and recharge — can be an important tool to help protect and manage #mentalhealth. And giving kids the chance to take them — within reason — can have big benefits.

But it can be hard to know when you should, and shouldn’t, let your child take a #mentalhealthday, and how to help them get the most out of it when the do. Here is some advice from our experts.

How to decide when a #mentalhealthday is a good idea

When kids ask to stay home, #parents should use it as an opportunity to check in, and do a little detective work. Talking through your child’s reason for asking to take a break will help you get a better idea of what they’re going through and make it easier to decide if a #mentalhealthday is the best solution.

For example:

  • Are they feeling overwhelmed?
  • Did something happen at #school that was upsetting, like a fight with a friend or an embarrassing moment in class?
  • Are they worried about their schoolwork?
  • Have they just finished a big, difficult assignment. For example, long paper, or a big test that required a lot of studying?
  • Are they feeling anxious, sad or stressed?
  • Is something happening at home that is adding #stress, like the illness or loss of a loved one, the death of a pet, a big move, or a #divorce?

Once you know more about what your child’s needs are, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether taking the day off is the right choice.

When are #mentalhealthdays not a good idea?

“#Mentalhealthdays can be positive for any #child,” says Allison Dubinski, a LCSW at the #ChildMindInstitute, “as long as they’re done in a way that’s not reinforcing avoidance or #anxiety.”

We want to teach kids that prioritizing our #mentalhealth and taking care of ourselves is important, Dubinski says, “But if kids are asking for a day off because they’re trying to get out of something that they’re anxious about, staying home may end up reinforcing that #anxiety.”

Jerry Bubrick , PhD, a clinical #psychologist at the #ChildMindInstitute agrees. “I’m a big advocate for #mentalhealthdays,” he says But #parents need to be conscious of making sure kids aren’t using them to avoid schoolwork. “This isn’t because you want to get an extension on a paper or miss a test — then it’s just a procrastination day.”

Not to mention that skipping tests, dodging schoolwork or hiding from conflict often ends up making the problem bigger, not better. “The goal is to give kids the coping skills they’ll need to manage #anxiety, and sometimes that means pushing through even when it’s difficult,” says Dubinski. Likewise, kids — especially younger #children and kids with #ADHD or learning differences — might really need the consistency and support the school routine provides. Or they could end up feeling more anxious because they’ve missed something important in class.

A #mentalhealthday might be appropriate for something specific like a breakup or recovering from a long hard week. But if kids are experiencing ongoing issues, like problems with friends, or #anxiety about #school, says Stephanie Ruggerio, PsyD a clinical psychologist at the #ChildMindInstitute, an occasional day off isn’t a fix. “#Mentalhealthdays are more likely to be a band-aid than a solution.”

When are #mentalhealth days a good choice?

But when a #child has been pushing through challenges and is feeling drained, a break is not only a good idea, it’s necessary.

“#Mentalhealth is health,” says Dr. Bubrick. “Think of it like this: If you were exhausted and feeling sick, pushing yourself to keep going, to work or to #school, would probably be a bad decision.”

#Children who struggle with #depression, #anxiety or other #mentalhealth and learning issues or even kids who’ve just had a rough week — for example facing their fears about reading in front of the class, going to #school even though they’re having trouble with a friend, or just facing down everyday #school #anxiety — may need some time to recuperate and recharge.

Making a #mentalhealthday count

If you do agree to a #mentalhealthday, especially for teens and tweens, help them make it meaningful, says Dr. Ruggerio. “This means they’re doing things that benefit and protect their #mentalhealth.” For example, she explains, kids shouldn’t use the day to catch up on outstanding assignments or sink into #socialmedia.

The other experts agree. “If we’re taking a #mentalhealthday we should be thinking about that day in a #mentalhealthway,” says Dr. Bubrick.

Some #mentalhealthday activities could look like:

  • Taking a walk outside, or spending time in nature
  • Baking, drawing, painting or other activities that your child finds calming
  • Taking some time to practice mindfulness activities
  • Exercising
  • Listening to music or reading a book (or listening to an audiobook)

#Parents can help kids be intentional about using their #mentalhealthday to rest and care for themselves. This doesn’t mean overscheduling, or pushing kids to talk about their feelings. The goal is to help your #child learn what they need to do to care for their mental wellbeing.

Setting limits

It’s important to let kids know that though you support taking #mentalhealthdays, they aren’t always appropriate or available. #Mentalhealthdays should be just that — a day. “We’re not having a #mentalhealth two-days, we’re not having a #mentalhealth week…” says Dr. Bubrick. Settling clear limits can help avoid pleas for “Just one more day…”

Some examples of limit-setting could be:

  • Agreeing on a set number of #mentalhealthdays per year (and sticking to it). For example, two per semester, or five per #school year.
  • Working with your #child to plan ahead. For example, if you know they’ve got a big project coming up, agreeing that they’ll take a day off to wind down when it’s finished.
  • Deciding on black-out days. For example, if Mondays tend to be packed with important information, or if Thursdays your #child has a class they’re behind in, those days can’t be used for a break.

If #kids need a break, but taking a whole day seems like too much. Dr. Ruggerio suggests offering smaller, targeted breaks that can help #kids recharge without falling behind. “For instance, give your child the chance to sleep in or take a half day. It’s less disruptive, but they’ll still get some time to rest.”

What to do when #kids push for more

Even with limits, some kids may still ask for more days off than you’re willing to give. If your child is asking to stay home often or faking sick, use it as an opportunity to have a conversation about why they are feeling anxious or upset. “We want kids to be honest,” says Dr. Ruggerio. “Let your #child know you take their #mentalhealth as seriously as their physical health. There’s no need to resort to lying or pretending.”

When #kids do lie or push back, try to keep your cool and remember that what they really trying to say is that they’re feeling down, anxious, upset, or stressed. Instead of getting angry or upset, invite your kid to talk to you. With younger children you could say: “I know you’re not sick in your body, but I can tell you’re feeling really upset. Can we make a time to talk about what’s going on after #school?”

Of course, #kids may not want to share what they’re feeling or may not know what to say, and that’s okay. Asking questions and modeling good habits by taking care of your own #mentalhealth will help kids know you’re taking their feelings seriously, and that the door is always open when they are ready to talk.

#JamesDonaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

When to be concerned

#Mentalhealthdays are not a substitute for treatment or a long-term solution.

If your child is faking sick or crying or begging to stay home frequently, breaks won’t get to the heart of the problem. There may be a serious issue at school, like bullying or an undiagnosed learning disorder. Or they could be struggling with a #mentalhealthissue like #depression.

“If the issues are ongoing, it’s time to have a bigger conversation,” says Dr. Ruggerio. Talking to your child’s #teacher, connecting with the #school #counselor, or reaching out to #mentalhealthprofessional will help your child get the care and help they need.

Rae Jacobson is senior content and marketing writer at the #ChildMindInstitute.

Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com