Back when I was in my early 20’s, I worked in an environment that was very stressful and emotionally taxing; a place devoted to kids who were often exposed to horrific abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction and neglect. I loved that job and while it was often a sad place to be, I rarely took a day off unless I was legitimately sick.
One morning, I just couldn’t bring myself to go in. I was showered and ready to leave, but I just couldn’t step out that door. I picked up the phone and called my boss and explained that I wasn’t sick, but I needed to have a day off. “Sure,” she said. “Let’s write it off as a mental health day. We all need one every now and then. See you tomorrow.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard of a mental health day, but as soon as she said it, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. It’s EXACTLY what I needed; a day to just sit in my own silence. Not a weekend or a public holiday, just a day that acknowledged that we all need a break from time to time. Even on a work day.
It was the only mental health day I ever took, but since then, I always knew that when I had kids, I’d implement them into their school lives. And I do. A few times a year, when my mum-sensor goes off and I can feel that their (often anxious) little minds need it, I’ll let them take a day off. I don’t label it as a ‘mental health day’, rather a ‘rest day’ and it has turned out to be one of the best things I could do for them.
On those rare days, I’ll climb into bed with them before the alarm is due to go off, snuggle up and whisper in their ear, “Would you like to stay home today?” It’s usually met with a big smile and a “yeah!” and we spend the day just doing…nothing much. For us, it’s never a day of going out or a big planned activity, it’s more about laying low and just relaxing with each other. We’ll cuddle in bed for a bit, have breakfast together and then hang out around the house in our PJ’s and maybe watch a movie, or paint, or play a game, or do whatever they want. It’s magical really, because often when they are really relaxed and engaged in our nothingness, they’ll open up and are so much more receptive to receiving advice or strategies on how to deal with whatever might be on their minds. Having that time together is so much more effective than the “how was your day today? What did you do?” chat after school that is often met with a vacant “OK” or “I don’t remember” response.
I don’t label it as a ‘mental health day’, rather a ‘rest day’ and it has turned out to be one of the best things I could do for them.
Clinical Social Worker Allison Sibley, Ph.D agrees that mental health days can be a winner for kids. “I certainly see a lot of kids with a lot of anxiety – and some is related to over-scheduled and complicated lives,” she told Care.com. “For a generally healthy child – one who doesn’t have an anxiety disorder or school refusal issue – it can be used right. In this case, parents aren’t using the day to treat something; they’re using it as a time for reflection, a time to take stock and as one of several steps in an overall preventative strategy. Present it to your child as a breather – not as a retreat!”
Of course, it’s not always possible for parents who work full-time outside of the home to take a leave day and spend it doing crafts in their PJs with their kids – but wouldn’t it be great if workplaces recognised the importance of mental health days for parents AND their kids?
The thing is, it’s really easy to forget that being a kid can be stressful. It’s easy to forget what an overwhelming place the school yard can be when you’re trying to figure out who you are and trying to fit in at the same time. It’s easy to forget how demanding a classroom can be, with the pressure to do your best and absorb as much information into your brain as you can every day. There’s also puberty and love and extracurricular activities and homework and all the other stuff that goes along with being a kid.
I hope these special days together are sending a signal to my kids that I’m listening; that I acknowledge that life can be intense sometimes and that every now and then, they deserve a break. Above all, I hope it teaches them to recognise in themselves when they’re feeling overwhelmed and with time, develop the skills to be able to work through it. And if they ever need to spend the occasional day snuggled under a doona, I’ll be there at the ready.
Do you allow your kids to have mental health days?
Boost Juice founder Janine Allis spoke to Monty and Brooke about the importance of creating special moments with her kids: