Kids and taking ‘mental health days’

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If a child is physically sick – you keep them home from school – but what if they need a mental health day?

It’s no longer just the common cold, Covid, or a stomach bug that parents have to worry about, when it comes to school and sick kids.

A new poll from the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital finds that nearly one in five parents considers if their child needs to take a mental health day.

Sarah Clark is a master of public health at Mott.

“I think that’s really an important recognition on the part of parents, that mental health has become such a big issue for youth in this country,” Clark said. “It’s a little tricky for parents to make this work, though, because they want to recognize situations where that mental health break might be good for their child, but not set up a situation where it happens too often. Or their the kid is trying to get out of school too easily that way.”

More than 90 percent of parents reported that their child’s school has an attendance policy, but for some, that policy makes it difficult for children with a medical condition.

Whether we’re talking about physical illness or mental health, the important thing is before allowing missed school, to have a good chat with your child. 

“If the timing is right, that can be setting up a situation where you try having the kid get dressed, eat breakfast, see how it goes, and sort of watch their behavior,” she said. “It’s also important for parents to talk with their kid to see if there might be something going on, that’s making them hesitant about going to school, are they anxious about something that might happen that day a test or maybe an interaction with another student?”

Two-thirds of parents say their child in junior high or high school worries about the impact on grades if they are absent from school.

Advice from the experts, and parents, for a mental health day absence is this: 

  • Consider the purpose of the day, is it an opportunity to help the child handle interactions?
  • Practice coping strategies to stay calm and ease anxiety
  • Identify teachers or peers who might be sources of support

Everyone agrees that kids need to be in school, but there’s also a recognition that there could be an event, let’s say something really embarrassing on social media, where a child just needs a day to reset and handle some big emotions. 

 

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