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Are Mental Health Days for Kids OK?

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Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: Last Monday morning, my 3-year-old woke up in a mood. He didn't want to go to preschool, but I sent him anyway. I had a pressing deadline and he needed to go to school. He perked up in about an hour, but later told the teacher that he'd really just wanted to stay in bed and sleep all day. Perhaps it should have been a mental health day.

mother and son

There are times when I do indulge him. He's only 3. And on days when I can, we turn a cranky Wednesday into a mellow mommy-son day at home. I figure there are only so many years left that we can get away with this without having to worry about missed classwork and school attendance -- and there will only be so many years when my work schedule is flexible enough to allow for it.

However, I often wonder how I'll handle mental health days when there are consequences to missed school days. Lisa Belkin of the New York Times' Motherlode blog reflected on this very question a few weeks back. Another mom, Jody Becker, had decided to keep her 7-year-old home the Monday after Halloween because her daughter had complained that she simply didn't feel well. She had no other symptoms, but spent the day curled up on the sofa reading a book.

When I was a kid, my mom trusted our word about whether or not we were well enough to go to school. If I told her I didn't feel well, despite the lack of a fever, she let me stay home. I don't remember ever abusing the privilege. Instead, it was a lesson that has served me well. As an adult, I've rarely taken a mental health day from work. However, the few times I have -- I can probably count them on one hand -- were much-needed and served me well.

As a parent, I hope to instill a similar value in my son. I want him to learn to trust his own body and know when he needs to slow down. At the same time, I want him to understand that at times we have to do one thing -- like go to work or school -- when we'd rather be doing another.

Moms, how do you handle your kids' mental health days? Do you ever indulge their need to stay home, or are school days always school days?

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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
KS November 22, 2010, 9:55 AM

If I found that this was a recurring thing I would probably look for an alternative child care option. I don’t think that day care is bad but it may not be the right fit for your child. He may need the one on one attention of an in home child care provider. The day care setting can be very overwhelming and regimented at times and he may not be responding well to that.

I do have to say that this has not been a problem for us. My oldest only stays home if he is running a fever or otherwise has an infection. If any of our four children were regularly expressing the need to take a break I would find out what was the cause and see what we could do to help them alleviate their distress.

I’m not against the occasional mental health day for children but I do think if it becomes a regular thing early it sets up a precedence that is unrealistic once they hit school age.

Mona November 22, 2010, 11:26 AM

Absolutely! We all need mental health days! I always ask my child if they will be ok with the make-up work. The older they get, the harder it is to make it all up. It comes down to what they are willing to give up for a day of rest. But, if it’s needed, then I let them stay home. It doesn’t happen too often and my kids are all on the honor roll, so they can afford a day or two.

Renee November 22, 2010, 11:26 AM

At this age, being able to enjoy a mental health day is a privilege that should be exercised every once in a while. When my youngest was 4 and just started pre-school there were days I kept him home because he simply woke up tired and out of sorts and set the stage for a horrible day-when we could. It wasn’t always an option, and he learned to come around on those days that we sent him anyway.

There are plenty of days my kids wake up tired and out of sorts and could probably use a mental health day, but unless someone is sick a school day is a school day. (My kids are now in K, 2 and 4.) Unless someone has a fever, they’re off in the morning.

With regard to waking up saying they don’t feel well, my policy is simple. Unless they’re running a fever or throwing up, I expect them to go to school. If they’re still feeling poorly by lunchtime (which is only 2-3 hours after they start school) they know they can go to the nurse and I’ll come pick them up, no questions asked. They’ve never abused the privilege, mostly because they get to school, get busy and start feeling better. (Moms, if your kids wake up with an upset stomach every morning, keep an eye on post nasal drip. 9 times out of 10 that’s the culprit around here, and after they’re up and moving they feel much, much better.)

So no, now that they’re in school mental health days are a thing of the past-for the most part. But there are still days they don’t get quite enough sleep or we’ve been traveling a lot the day before (we make the 400 mile trip to my parents’ house on a regular basis) and I’ll let them play hooky.

Mental health days with a good cause?

ginger November 22, 2010, 4:39 PM

I allowed my girls and myself one mental health day during the school year. Sometimes one or both of them woke up in a funk and we all three took the day off went back to sleep, then got up went out to lunch and to the hair salon. Kids deal with the same stress theat we do and lack the mechnanisms to cope. Sometimes we all need a day off!! BTW, they are grown now…one is married with a child of her own and one on the way and the other has a great life as well, both are educated and responsible. No harm done!!

???? November 22, 2010, 5:08 PM

Preschool isn’t really school. It’s just a glorified babysitter so Mom can have some time to herself.

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