Do kids need personal/mental health days?

Dear Jill,

A friend with college/post college aged kids recently shared that she gave her kids 1-2 personal/mental health days off of school a semester/year. One of her theories was that it allowed them to be honest with their parents and not feign illness/symptoms in order to stay home. She also acknowledges that we all need a mental health day from time to time. I’m curious … Do you/have you done this for your kids? Starting at what age? smileThoughts/rules surrounding it? I’d love to hear your wisdom on this. Thx!!

Inquiring Mom


Dear Inquiring Mom,

Yes, we’ve done that. We’ve haven’t done it quite as proactively as your friend has…we’ve allowed them as needed rather than stating up front that they get a certain number of personal/mental health days a year. We started in late elementary school with one of our kids. He just needs a break sometimes. He’s very much an introvert and when life gets hard and heavy, he needs a break. Although I will say that his need for personal/mental health days has decreased once we diagnosed and are successfully treating his ADHD.

With our other kids we saw the need in high school sometimes.  I do believe, however, that we’ve become more in tune with this need with our younger kids than we did with our older kids.  Experience brings about wisdom.

I love how your friend has handled this…particularly for high school/college students.  I think doing it proactively, does several things. First, it helps kids tune into their emotional health.  Being aware that sometimes we need to step back and take care of ourselves is a life skill we all need. Second, it keeps them from having to be dishonest about needing a break.  Without setting up a plan for handling the emotional side of life, we force our kids to use physical ailments to “legitimize” their need for a break.

Your letter has caused Mark and I to talk about this subject again and consider moving it from being something we do reactively to something we do proactively for our boys still at home.

Let’s see what other moms think. Did your parents allow you personal/mental health days when you were a student?  Have you ever done this or considered doing this as a mom?


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29 thoughts on “Do kids need personal/mental health days?

  1. My parents NEVER allowed us to have a break from school or anything. I don’t think it caused us any long-lasting negative effects 🙂 but I remember wishing I could just have a day “off” during high school.

    We did allow our kids those days…not on a regular basis as they missed quite a bit of school anyway to show their cattle at out-of-state shows. Those days were busy and full of work but provided them a break from the stresses of school. During summers when I could tell they needed a break I’d ease up on the chores, etc. and encourage them to ease up on themselves, too. I’ve tried to instill in them the need for a break once in awhile, especially in our daughter who seems to be more prone to doing too much and getting sick.

    Remember that as a mom you need “mental health” days or partial days as well!

  2. I, too, have given all 3 of my boys 1 day of a semester. There are times when they just feel overwhelmed and need a break. They are very careful with how they “use” it. Missing a day of school isn’t going to put them back any, but being stressed out will! 🙂

  3. We do allow our kids to have one or two mental health days a year. I always wanted to day off here and there when I was in school and now with so much more stress socially, as well as academically, we feel it benefits them so much.

    My son has some learning disabilities and so he works about 4X as hard as his classmates to keep up with the curriculum. Sometimes when there has been a particularly hard series of days/weeks we will have a surprise day off if there is not a scheduled day off on the school calendar. Usually it is just a quiet day at home to refresh and then lunch out with mom and dad. We have been blessed with healthy kids and we use maybe one or two sick days a year at most.

    We do make a point to keep up with his assignments and make sure he doesn’t miss a quiz, test or major assignment for his rest day. It’s also a great way to have some one on one time with his parents since his sister is 5 and generally demands a lot of attention and need compared to his 13.

  4. My parents didn’t allow this kind of day off either, but I don’t think she took care of herself mentally either. Now that I’ve been a mom for a while, I see how hard life is for our kids. Just this morning, as I was waking my middle school daughter up at 6:00 to get ready for a 7:00 band practice, I told my husband that I feel like we are teaching our kids to do too much with all of these before and after school extra curricular practices and meetings.
    I think I’ll consider giving my kids a planned day off every once in a while too. As parents, I think it’s our job to teach our kids how to live as an adult. Part of that includes how to take care of ourselves in every aspect. Especially mentally.
    Thanks, Jill, for sharing this today.

  5. I NEVER had a day off from school unless I was sick or it was a snow day and the school was closed. My mom is a nurse so I couldn’t even fake feeling bad. I agree everyone needs time off, but isn’t that what the weekend is for? If your kids need some time, perhaps you need to cut out the extracurricular activities. I question if this could lead to poor work attendance, or feeling “entitled”. How do you ensure that they are not skipping days that will be tough, or things they want to avoid – tests, exams, presentations etc?

    • As adults, most of us get the well but are afforded sick/vacation/personal days. Granted, kids get a lot of time off in the summer, but I know when work seems overwhelming and extra stressful, such as the school year might for our kiddos, it is nice to take a day to relax and reflect…

  6. YES!!! I let my kids have “days off”….sometimes they were a reward for something like an improved grade in a tough subject, sometime ‘just because”….they loved it and I think it helped them see that you can take a break to renew or learn something new and that it is healthy & energizing!
    I never had a problem with them taking advantage of it. All of their friends envied them because none of their moms would let them take a day off!
    We all need a break from time to time and especially as a kid learning new things every day!

    Blessings & Beauty to you today!

  7. That is why I secretly hope for snow days along with the kids!!! It’s a great break for all of us!! Without having to “name” the day off 🙂

  8. We don’t give our boys “days off” either. I agree that weekends are for re-charging. Plus, where we live, the school year now starts in mid-August (instead of the day after Labor Day) because of so many additional “holidays” and furlough days (I don’t think there is a month without a “day off”) that we don’t think our boys need any additional time out of the classroom.

  9. I didn’t do this with my daughter because she really didn’t seem to NEED the time. Our son was/is a different story. He has some learning disabilities and so, as another poster commented, he works so much harder to master the same things as his peers. We call these “Mommy Mondays”. We will watch a video, play a game and have lunch together. Now that he’s in 7th grade, I still see the need for these days, though we haven’t used one yet.

  10. I wish my parents let me have days off. As a 34 year old adult I still sometimes struggle with taking care of my own “mental health”. Our oldest is in 1st this year and I gave him an extra “day off” last year as when we had a great day planned (when his school had a day off) I was sick in the hospital! This same kiddo has SPD and so some things are an extra struggle for him. I think we will give him some “mental health days” (I hear we get homework on the weekends in 2nd grade, and in 1st they write complete sentence answers to questions!). I think we are too rushed and busy (I know I am) and every so often it would be great to just take a day “off” 🙂

  11. My mom understood the need for mental health days, and was generous enough to let us have them occassionally growing up (about 1 per semester). We knew we were responsible for making up all work, but since my sister & I were A students that was fine. Today it seems if my 4th grader takes a day off it’s SO much work to make up it’s almost not worth it! But we did take a family day off together earlier this month. My kids are 7 and 9 years old, and haven’t really asked for mental health days yet, but sometimes if I can tell they are dragging a bit I offer to bring them a special lunch to school that day. That seems to perk them up.

  12. No, we don’t give them days off, unless they are sick. We try to be sure that they have down time after school and on the weekends and not to over schedule. If it’s been a rough week, we try a little harder to be sure they have free time in the evening and/or the upcoming Saturday. I understand that school can be overwhelming, but we want them to take it seriously. Plus, missing a day of school can be even more stressful in the long run, they still have to make up the work! Both of our kids think it’s just easier to go to school and get it done.

  13. I had to laugh when I read this…I am doing this today! My daughter (youngest child) is a senior. She is at the top of her class academically, in several AP classes, involved in (and officer of) several organizations, and in the midst of applying for a huge scholarship for college that would change her life. Today, the stress just got to her. I know her well enough to trust her on this, and when she called and asked if she could just come home this afternoon, I said yes!

  14. My parents wouldn’t let us have time off school unless we were near death’s door. Slight exaggeration there. 🙂 I remember ending up becoming physically ill more than once when I was under a lot of stress emotionally etc. A rest day might have helped. I want to have a different approach with my own children, that a day off occasionally is ok. I am too amazed at what busy, exhausting lives kids can lead these days.

  15. My parents gave us days off if needed, up to the number allowed per semester, which was 5. Only my sister used all 10 every year, but school was very hard for her. We weren’t allowed to use them on test days either. With my own children, I don’t have a number of days predetermined, just whenever they need time off, I see my way clear to allow it. We’d rather allow them the time instead of them feeling like they have to lie about being sick. As a result, they very rarely use them…

  16. My mom was generous with mental health days, though if my immune system was acting up I tried not to use them. There were times, though, that between making up work and trying to feel healthy again I missed (at most) a straight week of school. In the semester after I tried to push through my sick days and avoid taking mental health days, but I think I took one.

    My workload in my first year of college seems much more bearable than my workload in senior year of high school, so I have the feeling I won’t want nor need as many mental health days. I’ll probably take one after midterms, but for the rest of the time I can psych myself up into getting up, going out, and taking a nap as soon as I get back to the dorm.

  17. My question is, if you give your kid(s) a mental health day (day off, break, etc) – what do you write on the note as the reason for their absence?

    • Megan, great question. I always considered mental health and physical health in the same category so I would simply write that they were not feeling well today. I felt it was an honest answer because they were usually emotionally unwell. At the same time, because culturally schools don’t put mental illness and physical illness in the same category, I knew that writing they needed a mental health day might cause a problem because not everyone understands the value of that and schools don’t usually address it (even though they should!)

      • Thank you for your response ! My daughter was crying to stay home (she hardly missed any days this year) and my son asked for a day off (from all the state testing last week he was burnt out!) I was agonizing over how to write the letter to the school – fearing if it wasn’t a “valid” reason then the would not “excuse” their absence. I did end up writing that she wasn’t feeling good.

  18. I have clinical anxiety and depression. Over the years have taken more than a few mental health days off from school in situations where I was currently panicking, or got very little sleep because I was up half the night panicking or otherwise experiencing a mental health crisis. My friends without any mental health issues did not use many if any mental health days; they were lucky enough not. I wish that my mental health was stablier; that I didn’t have both clinical anxiety and depression; that I didn’t generally need mental health day multiple times a school year. Mental health days, if used appropriately, can be essential. Acceptable reasons for a mental health day include: legitimate mental health crises, extreme stress, bullying, death of a beloved pet, or any other situation where the person in question knows that they could not function in a classroom on that particular day. Unacceptable reasons include: I don’t want to take that test, and I just don’t want to go to class. Mental health days are important, and should not synonymous for playing hooky.

  19. Today we gave our daughter her first mental health day! She is in grade 2 and while she fits the criteria for ADHD we have chosen not to have her labeled as we are uncomfortable with the “box” the public school system will place her in. We fear the attitude of “This is all your capable of because you have… (insert diagnosis)” Instead we have chosen to research successful ways to manage high energy in young kids.

    It is coming to the end of the school year and all the kids sports are winding up, with everything going on our daughter has been exhausted. Her emotions are all over the place and she has been struggling more than ever to focus. This morning we decided she needed to rest, so back to bed she went. This afternoon I plan to let her have a nice warm bath and take her outside to visit the horses and go for a walk. She will still learn things today – just not the things in a text book.

  20. I agree. Kids having breaks is not always a bad thing unless its constant, school itself can be somewhat stressful (depending on grade) In my opinion I think the higher the grade the more stressful life can be. Sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves, putting our educational lives ahead of us. So sometimes in that case, taking a day off is just fine.