I agree, Sandy, even kids need a break from routine and school/work expectations. Luckily, every child in the U.S. gets a regular mental health break, no matter how strict their parents are.
It’s called the weekend.
That’s two whole days to do nothing but recoup from the demands of teachers, get some distance from the trials of the playground, to curl up on the couch and read or watch TV or just sit. And stare. For hours and hours.
Unless, of course, a child’s weekend is spent at travel-team soccer games, or going from one birthday party to the next. Or at dance lessons or with the reading tutor or staring at stuffed animals in dioramas making good use of the Natural History Museum’s annual pass. Those things are fun and healthy and enriching and all that … unless they’re not. Unless they’re one more thing taking it out of kids without giving them time to recharge for the jam-packed hours of Monday through Friday.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for adults taking mental health days from work. After all, adult life — especially for parents — doesn’t always allow for recharging during the weekend. Sometimes a job is the mental health break from the constant demands of the loud and needy little ones.
But if kids have to regularly recharge during the week, as Jody Becker asks about over at The New York Times Motherlode blog, one has to wonder why the weekends aren’t enough time off. Are they time off at all? Is there enough open-ended unscheduled time for the kids or is there something on the calendar every day until the winter break? What about school — is it too intense? Is the teacher not meeting your child’s needs. Is there something else going on with the peers that could use a little adult intervention (See? The constant needs!).
I’ve been tempted to let my kids stay home from school just because, but I also know a day off for them is, at least in part, a day on for me. Lunch, negotiating TV, inevitable boredom when hour five rolls around. So unless they have a fever (or lice!), they’re going in. Unlike the glory days of latch-key life that I had — where I would call my mom at work after the bus had already passed our house and feign my stomach illness — a day home for my kids means a day off work for me. So I’m still reluctant to have them around during the 9-5.
But I’m not unbearably cold-hearted (mostly). When there’s talk of not wanting to go to school, I tell them to take it easy at school. I tell them to do their best, even if they’re not going full throttle. I tell them if they’re still not feeling up to it once they’re there, have the school call and I’ll come pick them up. Does it work? Well, I’ve never gotten the call.
Before we know it, we’re at the end of the week and the beginning of two long days of nothingness.
Of course, you’re the parent! You know your kid best. Maybe taking a mental health break is a valuable lesson in self-regulation and self-awareness. But I would argue there are also lessons in talking it out, sucking it up and planning ahead — stuff that’s better experienced as kids than for the first time as adults.
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