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"I've always let my son have 'mental health days', because emotional health is as important as grit."

“Thank you for sending your son to school,” a principal told me years ago, when I saw him about an issue my son was experiencing.

“Many parents don’t send their kids to school when things are too hard.”

This was from a highly-experienced educator, whose judgement I trusted completely, from much experience in dealing with him.

A guide on how to talk to adults, and kids with anxiety. Post continued below.

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I know what he meant – school avoidance is a real issue for many families. I know lots of parents who’ve let their kids have a few days away from class because they were struggling with peers or their workload.

This principal was a man who really believed in ‘grit’ – hard work, and not giving up. Determination. Facing fears. What he said to me was totally appropriate in that situation,
and I really respect those life lessons.

But another life lesson that’s equally important is knowing how to take care of your emotional needs. Which is why I’ve always let my son have mental health days.

The most recent one was earlier this term. He doesn’t mind me sharing this as he’s very open about the need for emotional well-being. He’s not ashamed of it, nor should he be.

Normally a kid who loves school, he told me he didn’t want to go that day. He was feeling flat. There was no test, no lesson he was avoiding. So, I said he needed to go, and once he was there, he’d feel better.

I watched as he walked into the school gates that morning. He turned around and came straight back to the car.

“Mum, please don’t make me go today,” he said.

 

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He’d never said anything like it. He’d had other days when I knew he needed to rest, but this was different. He’s a very active, social, and engaged 12-year-old; something was up.

In that moment, I knew I had to show him I was taking him seriously. That I respected he was trying to tell me something.

I didn’t lie to the school – I called to say he was feeling flat and wouldn’t be attending. My son was sitting next to me when I did that; I thought that honesty was important.

But this wasn’t a ‘day off’, like the holidays. This wasn’t playing hooky, or honouring the great Aussie tradition of taking a sickie.

It was a mental health day.

We walked in the sun to a local café. I fuelled my kid with warm food. And then we had the best talk.

It was a work day for me. I had a lot on. But it wasn’t as important as what was on my kid’s mind. I had to heed the alarm he was ringing.

When we went home, I didn’t let him sit with his face in his phone for six hours. He read, took a long bath, made sandwiches for both of us for lunch.

Later, he thanked me for letting him stay home, as he was feeling better. I replied I was glad he told me what he needed, and that he could always tell me anything.

 

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It was a good feeling; by letting him have that mental health day, I sent him two vital messages: he could trust me to truly listen to him when he needed it the most, and that it was the right thing to do to look after himself.

After all, if we want our kids to cope well with life, we must arm them with the skills to do so.

Yes, doing things is a part of life. But not doing things is, too. And guiding kids in making those choices is for themselves is our job.

I know, as a parent, sometimes it’s hard to remember that our kids are human just like us.

As often as we feel the need to take a day off, rest and reset – or see a psychologist, or get our anxiety medication script renewed – kids need those days, too.

Which is why I love the new legislation in some states of the US.

The New York Times reports that on July 1, Oregon gave students five mental health days in a three-month period. And in 2018, Utah’s definition of a student’s “valid excuse” for missing school was changed to include a reason “which may be mental or physical.”

The states took these measures in response to an alarming increase in student suicide rates, and reports of students expressing a need for mental health days to be acknowledged as such.

One mother, Roxanne Wilson, whose daughter had died by suicide, told the New York Times:

“Because she lied to get her absences excused, we didn’t get to have those mental health conversations that could have saved her life.”

The lesson from that tragedy is one which parents and educators can’t afford to miss. Our kids are depending on it.

Would you let you child take a mental health day from school? Tell us why or why not in a comment below.

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