Stress is more prevalent than ever in American families, and no one is feeling it more than our kids, according to recent "Stress in America" survey findings by the American Psychological Association. I just came across this finding, but it comes as no surprise. As a mom I sensed this and so last month I spontaneously decided to give my nine-year old son a "mental health day".
Call me crazy for keeping him home the day of a fourth grade spelling test, but instinctively I felt it was the right thing to do. And several other factors set the stage for this decision:
- I was telecommuting that day; I would be around.
- My son knew that!
- We'd just moved a week earlier, and with his sports, after-school activities, play dates and going back and forth between his dad's apartment and our new house (we're divorced), we really hadn't had a chance yet to get settled in -- and he'd be going back to his dad's place for the weekend that night.
- He complained his throat hurt a little bit, and he didlook a bit pale.
- It was a bitter cold December day -- I didn't want to go out either.
- His little brother had recently had a sick day (a real sick day, with a 101 degree fever and cough) and maybe Max deserved a lounge-around day, too.
- I just missed him and wanted to catch up with him. This was our chance.
Some parents may think I lost my mind for giving my nine-year-old a mental health day. But what happened that day will be more memorable than any metric system conversion or science experiment he missed that day at school.
Outside our patio window, the season's first snow suddenly fell, and we were able to run outside in it, "Before every kid in Potomac, because they're in school!" he exclaimed! With our freezer's ice maker not yet working, he cooled his hot chocolate on the patio table with snowflakes. We played Scrabble without the distraction of his little brother, and without rushing through because we had to get to football practice. We ordered in sushi and General Tso's tofu for lunch.
We didn't have any heavy conversations, but we didn't have any arguments either. He seemed more relaxed and happy than I'd seen him in months. And faced with eight hours ahead in the house and no kids home to compete with, he had my attention. He didn't even spend the whole day playing Wii, as I might have expected.
Did my decision to let him stay home make me a bad parent? Wondering what a professional might think, I contacted Allison Sibley, Ph.D, a clinical social worker who counsels families in Washington, DC.
"I certainly see a lot of kids with a lot of anxiety -- and some is related to overscheduled and competitive lives," she says. She believes having your kid take a mental health day all depends on how it's being presented, the state of the individual child and using it as a preventative strategy vs. a treatment.
"For a generally healthy child -- one who doesn't have an anxiety disorder or school refusal issue -- it can be used right. In this case, parents aren't using the day to treat something; they're using it as a time for reflection, a time to take stock and as one of several steps in an overall preventative strategy," Dr. Sibley says. "Present it to your child as a breather - not as a retreat!"
As for my son's mental health day, I think I did it right. Honestly, it helped me, too. As he gets bigger and busier with his own life, and as I often get lost in the day-to-day chaos of work and household stuff, I got some much-needed time to simply be a mom.
* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.