The issue for parents will be deciding when and how to use the option.
Mental health days are a response to the mental health crisis in children, said Jill Cook, executive director of the American School Counselor Association. “Even before the pandemic, we knew the anxiety was rising,” she said. “And we also know that the pandemic has just exacerbated some of that for many students.”
“The trick,” Cook added, “will be to figure out if it’s really a need to rest and recharge as opposed to school avoidance or test avoidance or something. else that might be more important when a mental health day isn’t the answer.”
Mary Alvord, a clinical psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, agrees that mental health days could trigger school avoidance. “Life is filled with discomfort and uncertainty, and we have to learn to deal with it,” said Alvord, founder of Resilience Across Borders, a nonprofit group aimed at helping young people build resilience. She recommends that mental health days be dedicated to this learning, rather than withdrawing from whatever is troubling the child.
What to do and what not to do when your child is out of school
“If you have a sick child who complains of having an earache, you’re not going to say, ‘Okay, stay home.’ You’re going to say, “We have to go to the pediatrician,” Alvord said. Likewise, a mental health day shouldn’t be “a day to stay in your room and play video games. actions,” such as talking to a counselor or therapist, working on calming strategies, or challenging negative thoughts with other scenarios that are more likely to occur.
How should parents decide?
Unfortunately, there is no thermometer to tell you when a child is too stressed or anxious to go to school. Alvord said it’s about “watching them closely and listening to what they’re saying and talking with them as much as they want.” Ask questions such as, “What makes you think or want to take a day off would be helpful?” or, “Is there something pressing?”
Cook said parents will have to do a bit of detective work to see if the child is facing a test or hasn’t completed a project. “It’s really important that parents and young people can talk to each other and have these open and honest conversations when possible. And for parents to help students understand if this is an avoidance tactic, they may be doing themselves a disservice by taking that day.
Nekeshia Hammond, a clinical psychologist in Brandon, Florida, said she believes that in middle school and high school, “a lot of kids can say, ‘You know what, I need a break. And I think we really have to respect that. She is aware that some children will try to take advantage of mental health days – but noted that there have always been children who try to outsmart the system.
“The most important thing we need to think about is making sure kids learn to take care of themselves,” Hammond said.
“Our mental state is directly related to how well we do in school. So we don’t want to send a kid really distressed or really depressed if they can’t handle it,” Alvord said. You have to do something. You have to be proactive.”
Once you understand what is troubling a child or adolescent, work together on a coping plan. If a child is upset about a social interaction at school, the plan may be to go see the school counselor together. If they were so anxious they couldn’t sleep the night before, consider letting them sleep for a few hours before taking them out late — mental health days don’t need to be all day, noted Alvord.
At a mental health day, Hammond said, “It’s really important to engage in calming activities, whatever that looks like” for your child. Teaching them about mindfulness can be helpful, as can helping them deal with some upsetting experiences.
Should children eat what you serve or only what they want? Neither.
Parents can also introduce their children to mental health apps to help them regulate their emotions. Some suggestions are Three Good Things, Smiling Mind and Breathe2Relax.
Finally, parents should be aware that they may need to help their child “get through this mental health day when they return to academia,” Hammond said. For example, if a child is anxious, a parent can work with them on positive visualizations of being back in school. Or, Alvord said, a parent can drive them to school and do calming and reframing exercises with them in the parking lot.
A new approach to mental health
One of the benefits of the Mental Health Days concept is that it allows parents, teachers and children to talk openly about the issue.
“It’s a very important statement for states to say, ‘Hey, we care about your sanity,'” said Hammond, who hopes all states eventually pass similar laws. “Because in my experience, some schools are so academically focused that they have completely forgotten that we need children to have positive mental health in order to work and succeed academically.”
She praises the current de-emphasis of perfect attendance. “Missing a day or two of school won’t necessarily have this horrible academic impact when the goal is to make sure that child is emotionally safe and emotionally healthy.”
Parents should also model emotionally healthy behavior for their children, Hammond said. “It’s good to show your kids that I’m really stressed, but here’s what I do about it. I try to take care of myself.”
In some cases, parents can explain why they are taking a mental health day themselves. For example, after losing a loved one, a parent might say that instead of going to work, they “needed a day to grieve and be calm and celebrate that person,” Alvord said. The important thing, she added, is to communicate that you are doing something about the problem and not just lying down.
The concept of Mental Health Days is “a really positive thing for kids to learn so early,” Hammond said. “It’s a skill that kids need, not just in childhood, obviously, but in adulthood. We give them the gift of teaching them to take care of themselves.
In fact, Hammond said she thinks parents should consider mental health days as an option, even if they don’t live in a state that has passed legislation allowing them. “I’m a big advocate for doing what works for your child at the end of the day.”
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