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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
September 11, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

The school year recently started for my 13-year-old twins, and honestly, it’s been difficult.

My son has had an online model where he is on Zoom for about 6 hours a day. Initially, he loved being able to jump out of bed and go straight to school. But by the 2-week point, he was over it. He missed the social interaction of school -- the newness of that first day back at school, meeting up with friends, and getting to know his teachers. He has been dragging every morning, "tired of online school."

My daughter goes to a different school that is using a hybrid model, so some of the students are in the classroom and others are joining virtually. She enjoys being in the classroom, but it has had unexpected obstacles. She doesn’t want to ask questions because she has to speak much louder when she has the mask on, and she worries about disturbing the classmates that are joining virtually. She has to carry her heavy backpack all day as they are not allowed to go to lockers to help keep physical distancing. Different problems than my son is experiencing, but, like him, she is stressed and exhausted by the end of the day.

Stress, unfortunately, is on the rise. With social distancing and isolation, kids are not able to participate in sports and school events, both of which help them grow friendships and have social interaction. In addition, they are mostly on their own for school assignments, projects, and tests as we parents are stretched trying to cope with the collateral damage of COVID-19 -- working from home, not working at all because of job loss, or managing online school as well as everything else. And on top of it all, our kids are constantly connected via their smartphones to the ongoing drumbeat of COVID-19 news.

So when my daughter came to me after school and said, “I’m exhausted,” it made sense.

As a working mom and doctor, I can relate. I know that sometimes it’s all too much and you just need a “mental health day.”

Many people have said that this generation of kids seems 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, especially now with the pandemic, is that more and more kids are incredibly stressed. They are under the same high academic expectations (I don’t remember doing the math my daughter is doing until I was in high school), but without the social buffers that help balance out that pressure. Contact with friends and extended family, like grandma, is limited, and community events like barbecues and church picnics are gone for now. All kids are different, and some can handle this stress more easily than others, but we need to listen and know our kids. And studies have shown that taking a break and enjoying some unscheduled time can actually spur creativity and reset the emotional needle.

So give your kids a “mental health day” when they need it. (And take one yourself, too!) Allow them to reset and recharge by being getting off of their screens, doing a fun activity with family, or by just simply spending some time outside nature. This school year is a mind-bender -- they’re going to need some mental breaks.




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About the Author
Hansa D. Bhargava, MD

Hansa Bhargava, MD, is Chief Medical Officer at Medscape Education and a board-certified pediatrician. She is the author of Building Happier Kids: Stress-busting Tools for Parents. With expertise in parenting, mental health, and pregnancy, she has helped develop the WebMD Baby App and WebMD Pregnancy App. A regular contributor to Forbes, she is frequently interviewed by major news outlets on issues of health and well-being in children. In addition to her work at Medscape Education, she has collaborated with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is an elected executive member of the AAP Committee on Communications and Media.

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