Being a parent is hard as hell. Whether you work full-time, go to school, stay at home, or some combination of the above, parenting burnout is oftentimes inevitable. But even if you don’t factor in all of our responsibilities and the many different hats we wear, there are days where we wake up in a funk. Days where we don’t feel well emotionally and need to take time to recharge and heal, just as we would if we had a bad cold.
Society conditions parents to feel guilty about needing to rest and creates unrealistic expectations that we can’t meet but break ourselves down trying to. We are human, and the idea of pushing through with no days off should be something we all let go of.
What we have to remember is that being a kid is hard too. With huge emotions and oftentimes a lack of ability to communicate them, centering your child’s mental health is imperative. It will create healthy self-care practices and mental health coping mechanisms that will allow them to navigate their negative emotions.
Choosing to Give My Daughter Mental Health Days
I give my daughter mental health days at least once a month, as needed. I know starting in kindergarten many schools have mandatory attendance policies and a maximum number of unexcused absences a child can have in a semester. I have yet to run into a problem with giving my daughter mental health days when she needs them, so navigating this has not been difficult for us. But, for me, regardless of school policy this will always be a non-negotiable.
I’m fortunate to have a flexible schedule, and my daughter rarely asks for “off or personal days,” as she puts it, but if she did start asking for an exorbitant amount of mental health days, that would alert me to a bigger issue that would need to be addressed.
Dr. Kamilah Hampton, a Chicago Public School principal and author, says that centering mental health in children is so important. “We need to remember that if we need breaks, children do as well. I suggest if you allow your child to use mental health days, engage them in things that relax them and are fun. This is teaching them it is ok to disconnect when needed to recharge and show up again the next day prepared to tackle future days.”
I think that so often, children are thought to have little to no “problems” in life, and that having their basic needs met and being surrounded by a loving family should be enough to keep them healthy emotionally, but growing up is hard and having big feelings and learning to adapt to new environments and people, whether it be school or extracurriculars, is an emotional journey.
Dr. Hampton shared four helpful ways to instill the importance of mental health in our children and create a balanced emotional intelligence.
1. Parents have to address their own mental state and social-emotional needs.
“Many students experience trauma due to parents unconsciously inflicting trauma on their children. [This can be] due to their childhood trauma and parents not addressing their [own] mental health issues.”
2. Listen and allow your child to emote.
“Crying and allowing our children to express themselves is a form of self-care. Many times anxiety is triggered due to the lack of emotions being expressed.”
3. Seek therapy for your children.
“I’m really big on this even if the child seems OK. Everyone needs an outlet. As much as we want our children to seek us out for guidance, sometimes it can also be beneficial to have a licensed professional’s support.”
4. Love them through it all.
“And display love through actions.”
As adults we are conditioned to have a “no days off” mentality, believing that pushing through emotions and hard times makes us strong, but it’s important to dispel that notion. It’s why we’ve seen so many articles about “burnout” in the media. We don’t want our children to grow up bottling their emotions, not taking care of their mental health, or feeling shame attached to rest.
I give my daughter mental health days so she grows up knowing her mind and emotional wellbeing are paramount, that she is supported while taking the time to recharge, and that mental health should never be minimized for the sake of productivity. I’m still trying to unlearn the delusional notion that I have to sacrifice giving myself grace for the sake of success. Giving my daughter mental health days is one way I know she will never have to, because her foundation will be built on self-love and centering her emotional wellness.