When Kids Need a Mental Health Day – Hope 103.2

When Kids Need a Mental Health Day

Children’s specialist Dr Anne Marie Christie, better known as The Children’s Doctor, believes school-age kids need mental health days from time to time.

By Clare BruceThursday 21 Sep 2017Hope BreakfastParentingReading Time: 3 minutes

Listen: Dr Anne Marie Christie talks to Katrina Roe about children taking days off school.

When Michigan woman Madalyn Parker was celebrated in headlines around the world for taking two ‘mental health days’ off work, one thing became clear: attitudes are shifting.

Many employers have grown more comfortable with the idea of their workers taking a day of leave – without needing to be dying from the flu – to unwind and look after their emotional wellbeing.

But do we extend the same level of understanding about the need for a day off, to school children?

Children’s specialist Dr Anne Marie Christie, better known as The Children’s Doctor, believes school-age kids do need mental health days from time to time—and encourages parents to allow their children a day off when they’re feeling fragile.

“I think it’s really beneficial,” she said.  “I think we need to recognise that our kids’ lives are not as simple as they might at first appear.”

“Our kids are learning, every waking moment. They’re getting new experiences, dealing with stresses that we might not recognise as stresses, but for them, even the social interaction in the playground can be quite stressful because it’s on the whole time. And they don’t really get a break.

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“And as families, we’re filling up their out-of-school-hours time, we’re busy on weekends, and sometimes kids need just some downtime to reconnect.”

Term Two and Three the Hardest Times of Year at School

Sad school boy

Dr Christie said her view is ‘a bit controversial’ as it contradicts with letters that the Department of Education often sends to parents, urging them not to give children days off unless they’re sick.

She believes parents should be the judge of their children’s needs, and that while some children are missing too much school, a day or two off in a busy or stressful term, is not excessive.

Term two and three in particularly are times when kids become overwhelmed, she said.

“Anybody who’s a teacher knows the second half of term three is the toughest time of the year, mainly because the kids are doing a lot of work, they’re very busy, it’s winter, a lot of them have been sick, so their bodies have been under stress, and they can do with a day off.

“I’m not talking about multiple days or regular days off school. I’m talking about perhaps a day a term when the parents think they need it.”

When ‘Toughen Up’ Isn’t the Best Response

While children wanting a day off may have a tendency to ‘pretend’ they’re unwell, Dr Christie says parents shouldn’t always dismiss it.

“Parents are pretty good at picking up on when their kids are overwhelmed or really exhausted, or just not themselves and feeling a bit sad,” she said. “(Giving them a day off) is not something that I’d do necessarily on a whim, on the child’s call. I think it needs to be the parent making the decision. Otherwise the kids are going to get up every morning and say they don’t feel like going to school. They also need to learn that they need to tough out sometimes.

“But when the parent can see that the kids are getting run down and teary, then it’s a good idea for the parent to call a Mental Health Day.”

Writing to the School: Just be Honest

If you’re writing a letter to the teacher to explain your child’s absence, there is no need to make up excuses of sickness, Dr Christie said.

“Most teachers will understand that if you’re calling a mental health day, that child’s probably better off at home than sitting in that classroom, because they’re going to potentially be teary or cause trouble in the classroom,” she said. “They’re better off to rest and recover, and come back refreshed the next day.”