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Should You Let Your Child Take a ‘Mental Health Day’? A Pediatrician’s Perspective

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Hansa Bhargava, MD - Blogs
By Hansa D. Bhargava, MDBoard-certified pediatricianMay 7, 2018

“I’m exhausted. Can I please have a day off from school?” My first instinct when one of my kids asks a question like this is to push them to get out of bed and get going. But when my daughter woke up last Friday and asked this question, I hesitated. My daughter has had a crazy month. Along with her usual load of 6th grade quizzes, tests, and homework, she’s had to stay at school until 7pm almost every day for rehearsals for the school play. After that, it’s a long drive home through traffic, and then dinner, so she’s not able to sit down and start her load of homework until 8:30pm.

As a working mom and doctor, I’ve had weeks like these. The only difference is that I haven’t had homework, studying, and projects to do when I get back from a very long day. And even without all of that, I will honestly admit, I have felt the need for a “mental health day.”

Many people have said that this generation of kids seem to be coddled, that they have parents who “helicopter” around them making sure that they have everything they’ve ever wanted. This may be partially true, but what I’m seeing as a pediatrician is that more and more kids are incredibly stressed. Not only have their academics been ramped up (I don’t remember doing the algebra my daughter is doing until I was in 8th grade), but they are expected to do higher level sports, high level arts, and be on the go constantly. For many of our children, the lazy afterschool neighborhood playtime is long gone, as are the long summers of being bored. All kids are different and some can handle more than others, but we need to listen and know our kids. And studies have actually shown that boredom, and long periods of unscheduled time, can actually spur creativity and out of the box thinking, as well as reset the emotional needle. We ALL need this, and the kids do, too.

So, let’s all take time regularly, to have that break. To reset and recharge by staying home, by being with family or by just simply taking a walk and looking at the trees and the spring flowers. It will calm our soul and give us the mental break that we need to recharge ourselves.

That day, I gave my daughter what she asked for. I did let her stay home and just be. And the next day, she was ready to go full force again.

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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is a medical editor and WebMD's expert pediatrician. She oversees the team of medical experts responsible for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of the pediatric content on the site.

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