It was at the end of the school day in which I noticed my kids were a little quiet. A little too quiet. When I asked the kids about their day, I was met with one-worded statements. I quick glance in the rearview mirror showed a dismal sight: the kids were tired; not just physically tired, but mentally taxed. We drove in silence all the way home. No questions about dinner. No retells of playground escapades. The kids didn’t even argue about what they would do once we got home. They were just silent.
When we arrived home, they dragged themselves into the house, sat on the couch, and silently watched PBSKids. I knew something was seriously amiss when the kids didn’t ask for their pre-dinner snack.
As we sat down for dinner, I truly looked around the table at my four kids. I took in their tiredness, the lackluster glaze that seemed to dim the light in their eyes. It was then I realized something: my kids are humans. I know that sounds like a silly statement, but think about it for a moment. A lot of time we think that children are impervious to the trials and tribulations of life simply because they are kids. I have heard many adults say things like:
- “What could kids be stressed about?”
- “Children have it easy now.”
- “I wish I were a child and could nap all day.”
- “Kids don’t know anything about responsibility. Wait until they have to pay bills.”
So many times, we diminish the stresses that a child could possible endure simply because we think that they aren’t human. We downplay everything they may be feeling because they are “children.”
So it was around that table that I look at my tiny humans through a new lens. Seeing them as tiny humans, I asked them, “What stressed you out today?” In turn, each child replied.
“I forgot my first lunch at home.”
“Sara kept skipping me in line and it was my time to be the line leader.”
“I couldn’t find my assignment in my desk and my teacher got really mad.”
“I thought I did really good on my test, but when I got it back, I had made a C on it.”
“Evan said he didn’t want to be my friend anymore.”
“We didn’t go outside for recess today.”
I listened to every complaint. I didn’t try to offer advice or a solution. (Trying to offer a solution after the problem has already occurred and vanished is pointless.) I didn’t ask a single clarifying-question. I just listened. Afterwards, I told the kids, “I think you guys need a mental health day.” They each looked at each other quizzically and finally asked, “What’s that?” I explained, “A mental health day is a day in which you take time to care for yourself mentally. You know how you eat healthy and exercise to take care of your body? Well it just like that, but for your mind. Sometimes you need to stop and give your mind a break.”Elijah wondered, “Is it like when we take brain breaks between tests at school?” I retorted, “Well, sorta. But this brain break doesn’t last for a few minutes. It could lasts for hours or even days. We’re all gonna stay home tomorrow and take a mental health day.” At the sound of those words, the invisible weight that pressed their tiny shoulders was lifted. The glow under their cheeks started to brighten and a smile broke across their tiny human faces. “Really, Mom? Really? We get to stay home tomorrow?” I could practically hear the hope in their voice. I told them yes. And if they wanted to stay up late tonight and play games, they could. I went on to tell them homework could wait and I’ll ask their teacher for an extension. After that, dinner conversation picked up, and I got my kids back!
Just like mothers need a day off from parenting, just like dads find solace in their men caves, children also need an opportunity to take a break from life’s mishaps and missions. Children need Mental Health Days too.
If you think I’m alone in this, you should also read this online article by Amy Morin, a psychotherapist.
"But when they’re feeling so bad that they’re struggling to function, and going to school is likely to make it worse, a mental health day might be just what the doctor ordered. Letting kids take the occasional mental health day — maybe once or twice a year — could reinforce to them that it’s vital to take care of their minds as well as their bodies. It can also be a great opportunity to help them sharpen their emotional skills and build the mental muscle they need to stay strong.” -Amy Morin
You can even incorporate “Quiet Corners” for your kids. But however and whenever you decide to give your children a mental health day, their activities are completely up to you. But if your kids are involved in multiple activities during the school year outside of school, give them opportunities to take care of their mental-selves too.