Should we let kids take ‘mental health days’ when they’re feeling worn out?

Cafe date for Mental Health Day
Cafe date for Mental Health Day  Photo: Getty Images

The ebb and flow of the school year can be exhausting, and it's not uncommon for kids to beg for a day off once in a while.

Rita Templeton understands.

When growing up, she received a "special gift" from her mother.

"She called it a 'mental health day'. I was allowed to skip school, and we'd do something fun together — whatever I wanted — just the two of us," the Ohio-based blogger writes in an article for Scary Mommy.

On those days, Rita and her mum would spend time together. 

Sometimes, they'd have lunch at a shopping centre. At other times, they'd just hang out at home in their pj's watching movies.

"…It was always an experience I cherished and looked forward to every year, and remains one of my favourite childhood memories."

As a mum of four boys, Rita remains a "firm believer" in continuing this tradition with her own children.

She says kids need breaks just as much as grown-ups.

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"Though their lives aren't stressful in the same ways as ours, they still go through things that, from their inexperienced perspective, are really rough."

Rita says she can tell when it's time for her boys to take an unanticipated 'day off' when they start showing signs of "strain".

"When they're worn down, a free day is just what the doctor ordered.

"They choose anything they want to do, but surprisingly, it's never anything super-elaborate or costly. It's always quality time that they crave above all else...".

Educator Sharon Witt, from Victoria, has always been a "strong advocate" of students taking a 'mental health day' when needed.

She believes a child's mental health is "paramount", and that children sometimes need a day off school when they're feeling overwhelmed, or mentally or physically "exhausted".

When her own children were in primary school, Sharon began giving them a 'mental health day' once a year.

Her children were free to spend an entire day with their mum, doing something they planned.

While Sharon believes mental health days can be restorative, she cautions that you shouldn't let your children use them as a "cop out" when things get stressful.

Nor should they become a "set pattern".

If your child continually asks for days off, Sharon recommends taking her to the GP to see if she has underlying reasons for her request.

It's not uncommon for parents to let their kids take a day off every once in a while for some added 'down time', says Clinical Psychologist Dr Nicole Highet.

However, she doesn't support the idea.

Rather than letting her own children take 'mental health days', Dr Highet says she prefers to intervene before things get to that point.

When her children seem frazzled, she puts them to bed early and cuts back on weekend activities. She also tries to introduce more "quiet time" when they seem particularly worn out.

But Sharon believes that identifying you need a day off is a "great life skill" which can help children manage their own mental health.

"The benefits of having a break for even just one school day - connecting with mum or dad, not thinking about school, doing something different - can be great."

Do you support the idea of giving kids a day off every once in a while as a 'mental health day'?