Parents are quite familiar with snow days and sick days, but one mom allowed her daughter to take a mental-health day.
Writing her take on CBC Parents, Kelly Pedro said she allowed her 10-year-old daughter to stay home from school one day, even though she wasn’t physically ill.
“She looked exhausted and I knew she was in a funk with some of her school friends,” Pedro wrote. “I said ‘yes’ because I knew that even though she wasn’t obviously physically sick, mentally, she was under the weather.”
She added since then, the work-from-home mom allows all three of her children to take one day off in the school year for their mental health, no questions asked.
“In our house, we call them mental-health days and they’re an important part of our family life. It’s a privilege, I know.”
Early childhood consultant Julie Romanowski of Miss Behaviour in Victoria, B.C., told Global News when it comes to encouraging mental-health days, parents need to talk to their children about it openly.
“I would have a discussion about it and what the purpose is, as well as the parameters, but I wouldn’t encourage a child to take a day off to rest,” she explained.
“I like how the mom in the article used her discretion and made a sound decision based on the obvious factors she knew about. I believe this is an important part rather than leave it all up to the child.”
Talking about mental health to children
One report from September 2018 showed Canadian children had high rates of mental illness, and suicide was the second leading cause of death of children.
Parents, health-care professionals and educators are often aware of a child’s mental well-being, but Romanowski added children need to understand what mental health means.
“Any discussion can be adapted in a way a child can understand,” she continued. “I relate it to how when the body gets sick (like a cold, flu, chicken pox) and we discuss how it feels, what you do about it, how long it lasts etc… then I use the same criteria.”
Ask children if they are sad, stressed, overwhelmed or irritated? “Then go into how it feels in the body, what you do about it and how long it lasts.”
Kim Moran, CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario added parents should aspire to have mentally healthy homes, and listening to how they feel is also important.
“Normal levels of worrying are part of being a human,” she said. “[It’s about] teaching kids how to manage through this.”
Parents should also monitor behaviours. Some children who may be anxious may feel worried for a long period of time and show other symptoms like difficulty sleeping, wetting the bed, not settling down or crying. For older children, stomach aches, difficulty sleeping, spending too much time on devices or never wanting to go to school.
Setting up boundaries
But children can be manipulative and sometimes even use mental health as an excuse to miss school. Pedro had a rule of one mental-health day per year for her children, and experts like Romanowski said parents need to create tight boundaries if they go down this road.
“There is no real way of ‘measuring’ mental un-wellness other than what the child says,” she said. “Remember, this method may not be suitable for every child or every household. I would include some key parts such as the things that warrant a day off, who calls the shots, what’s the plan and what is done during those times.”
Moran explained parents shouldn’t force their child to do anything, but parents also need to be strict when it comes to things like taking a day off school.
“Parenting has to be a combination of really listening and understanding your kids and knowing the time to be firm.”
If you are unsure how to tell if your child may be depressed or even anxious, contact a medical professional.
“Going to a family doctor to discuss can be a good place to start. If they are concerned, they may refer to a specialist, and if not, then this could also be reassuring. This also can help start a paper-trail to ensure you are covering your bases,” Romanowski said.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.