If you have children in grades K-12, you’ve probably had to call the front office a time or two to report an absence. The call goes something like this: “This is Anissa, Fiona’s mom. She is not coming to school today. She isn’t feeling well.”
Did you notice that I didn’t say she was “sick”? I said she wasn’t feeling “well.” According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “wellness” is defined as “The state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.”
We all should be actively pursuing good health and that includes our emotional health as well.
We teach our kids to brush their teeth, wash their hands, cover their mouth when they cough, and eat nutritious food, all in an effort to keep them healthy in the physical sense. Inevitably, during some time during their school years, they will catch a virus and get sick. Those are the days we keep them home from school. We don’t want them to spread germs and we don’t want whatever virus they have to develop into something worse.
But what about when they need a “mental health day”?
Of course, I am using the term “mental health day” in the colloquial sense, meaning they just need a day to unwind, to chill, to escape the pressures of their little lives. I offer my kids one or two “mental health” days per school year.
We often forget that children have their own concerns, worries, and stress. This could range from not getting a good night’s sleep, to having broken up with a boyfriend, to spending too much time working on college applications.
Sometimes kids, like adults, just need a “day off” to rest and re-group.
Sometimes my kids will say “Can I use my mental health day today?” And sometimes I can sense they are needing one and offer it up as a suggestion.
They know these days are not given out freely and are only allowed once or twice per year. They have come to learn these days are valuable and they need to be requested thoughtfully.
My 10-year-old waited almost the entire school year to get her day off. It came after a holiday weekend when there were lots of late nights, lots of sugar, combined with an insensitive comment by someone on the playground the Friday before. That following Monday I let her sleep in. I let her eat snacks. I let her watch TV all day and relax on the couch. By the time she went to school the next day, I noticed she was well rested. Also, the bothersome comment that was said to her on the playground the Friday before didn’t have as much as an impact on her.
Now I am not advocating for kids to skip school “willy-nilly.” But I do want my daughters to know their well-being is just as important as their physical health. I want them to know they deserve to occasionally take time for themselves without having to justify it with an illness.
This is a lesson that took me close to 40 years to learn. My children have come to realize they can’t take advantage of these days. It has made them more cognizant of the value of their time and others’ time.
So yes, sometimes I call my child’s school and tell them they aren’t “well” today. I don’t say “sick.” I say not “well.” This is not a lie. And sometimes I’ll take that day off right along with them and we actively pursue our goal of health together.