In Praise of the Mental Health Day

Everyone knows that kid – or the parent of that kid. The one who didn’t miss a day of school, not just one year, but several years in a  row.  Schools even give awards to those kids – as though the children who didn’t have perfect attendance got to choose between perfect health and the norovirus, and they chose the norovirus.


As your kid gets into the middle school and high school arena, the choice to not be overwhelmed is just as unrealistic. If your child has never felt run down, overwhelmed, had a panic attack, a really terrible night’s sleep, been dumped, or had a best friend going through something truly awful, then stop whatever you’re doing, right now, and see if someone switched them with an android.

Don’t get me wrong – a mental health day is not something that my kids use as a way to get out of homework due dates. Now almost all their homework is due online by midnight or some such unavoidable, dire-sounding  equivalent, and unless you have a doctor’s note, that still stands if they are out sick (school’s rule  – and mine, since if my children can lie on the couch playing Pokemon, they can probably use the laptop in bed to turn in their English vocabulary).

Who hasn’t needed a day off sometimes? My children know there are limits – one mental health day per quarter, and they often forget to use them – but if the family pet just died or they just found out a dear friend is moving away, or a sibling was up all night throwing up SO LOUDLY that no one slept – well, cue the mental health day.

Don’t make it arbitrary. My mother did. School was a horrible place for her, so she told my sister and I that it was a horrible place, and being five and three, we believed her. In my experience, you don’t get what you deserve in life, you get what you expect, so for my sister and I, school was exactly as expected. When it came time for Song & Dance to go to pre-school, I was petrified on her behalf, but by then, exhausted.  It was time. Lo and behold, she loved school until middle school, which is approximately when the work time exceeded the amount of time she felt like working and puberty made many of the classmates much less kind and polite. Same with Amusing Artist. Now, of course, school is a slog with brief high points – theatre and dance class for Song & Dance; art, lunch, and PE for Amusing Artist. My mother would barely get these kids to school 80% of the time, I can guarantee you (she gave us birthdays off, days when a cat was having kittens, days with exceptionally nice weather, days she didn’t feel like driving… get the picture. )

My one rule for mental health days – do whatever it takes to make the next day, when you will inevitably go back to school, as good as possible. Get ahead on a homework assignment, talk out a fear with a parent, pick the clothes you know you’re going to wear that day. Mental Health days are all about healing you up to go back into the brawl of adolescence. So the next time your child looks up at you, pale with terror at facing another day without a chance to repair their armor, listen.

Don’t make me go!

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