Most adults are no strangers to the concept of burnout or just getting plain rundown every once in a while. Depending on what you do for a living, taking a personal day to just catch your breath mentally will often leave you feeling refreshed and ready to dive back in. But for school-age kids, skipping school for personal reasons usually isn't an option — or at least it's not really talked about. Recently, a mom named Claire Gillespie wrote a poignant essay for Parents about why she allows her children to take personal days — or mental health days, as she likes to call them.
"Before you call child services, this is not a regular occurrence," she explained. "My kids don't get to take every second day off school just because they feel like it (or want to play the Xbox all day). In fact, it happened only three times during the last school year."
According to Claire, kids should be able to use a personal day for a variety of reasons. "They might be exhausted. They might be feigning sickness," she said. "Both my kids love school, so if they pretend to be sick or don't want to go, I know something's up. They might just need a day at home with their mom — a day away from a classroom of other kids, playground dramas, and peer pressure."
So what exactly does a personal day entail, as far as this mom's concerned? Just a bit of relaxing, in general. However, Claire has some rules that her children need to abide by.
"I want my children to work hard and learn how to overcome obstacles. I also want them to know that they have permission to take time out when it's needed."
"During these personal days — or 'mental health' days, as I call them — we have rules: no screens, an adequate amount of fresh air, healthy food before treats," she explained. "This is not a sleepover. However, we do sometimes grab a duvet and bed down on the sofa to watch movies. It's all about destressing, chilling out, and not having to make any important decisions or worry about anything that can wait until tomorrow." She explained that she doesn't necessarily have concerns about her kids' mental health, per se. Allowing them to take these days is more about teaching them self-care.
"For co-parented kids, they're secure and happy," said the mom. "They're physically healthy and doing well at school. But that doesn't mean they don't need a mental health checkup."
Claire added: "Too many people don't know how to make self-care a priority. Of course, I want my children to work hard and learn how to overcome obstacles. I also want them to know that they have permission to take time out when it's needed. Hopefully that's something they'll take with them into adulthood and live a happier, healthier life because they look after their minds just as much as their bodies."
Overall, unless kids are trying to take a mental health day every single week, letting them take a day here or there may benefit them in the long run. "I believe that for a child who is generally happy and healthy, taking a personal day can be a positive thing," she said. "I don't use the day to treat something that's 'wrong' with my child; I use it as a time for reflection. It's a breather, not an escape, from life, and only one of many steps I take to keep my kids' mental health on track."