Shock of all shocks I am someone who views mental health as of equal importance to physical health. I understand all too well the impact of mental health issues. My kids come from hardships that are more likely to lead to mental health concerns than a typical childhood. As such we often talk about mental health openly and in kid friendly ways. Today Joel and I are introducing something new to my kids, the concept of a mental health day.
Everyone knows that when you are physically sick you stay home. If you puking you call in to work and school and no one bats an eye. Physical sickness is not the only thing my kids and I will experience. There will be times when we are “sick” or “ill” but our bodies are physically fine. I do not want my children to hide, ignore, or feel shame for this fact. It’s just a fact of lives. Many lives other than ours experience this too. When you are mentally struggling there are things to do that help, just as there are remedies for the flu.
Let me back up. This week Skye has been having a tough time. Clingy and tearful and overall anxious. It came to a head last night when she broke down into tears about me breaking a promise. I had mentioned we may be able to do something and then we didn’t. I know many kids do this when they are disappointed. Mine do as well some times, but this time was different. Skye was able to let me know that something else was going on. We together figured out that when she thinks someone broke a promise she wonders if they will keep other promises (think always keeping her safe, or always being there for her). So it’s not about the event. The old day treatment therapist in me wanted to hold firm the line and see this as manipulation. Which technically it is I guess. But the mom in me saw it for what it was also, a cry for help. Skye can’t yet use her words to fully explain her anxieties, and may never be able to. It is up to Joel and I as parents to give her the words and actions to take when she doesn’t know what to do.
Skye and I talked about safety and the difference between wants and needs. None of this helped her scared feelings, as logic never really alleviates trauma responses. Something that does is being cocooned. Keeping those that you love close and spending safe and relaxing time together. Basically, bringing people closer together to reassure that they will be there. Today skye did not need to learn
multiplication or the proper spelling and use of the word studious or other such academic pursuits. She did not need to attempt to navigate the confusing pre-pubescent social world of her peers. She needed her mom. She needed me to show her that I love her and care for her. She needed to learn tools to help when she feels this way in the future. She needed a mental health day. So I called the school and said she wasn’t feeling well. She asked why I lied and I explained that I didn’t. That her physical body was fine but her mental self was struggling. That they are both different forms of health and important. We planned a day of lunch and shopping. Preston is in school in the morning and has his PCA this afternoon and Cayla is in school so today is a rare day where I actually CAN spend the day with her. Would I rather be home catching up on cleaning and rest? Yes. Do I regret my choice? NO! Cleaning and resting can wait, kids can’t.
I am fully aware that this might not be always possible and Skye’s mental health may be struggling on more days than not. Joel and I talked about 1 or (at most) 2 mental health days per kid per school year (they don’t know). We will use them if other things have failed. For example so far this week with Skye we have tried spending one-on-one quality time, offering reassurance, giving specific jobs, writing notes to send to school, extra cuddles and hugs, ect all to no avail. Some days we will try all these things and still have to send Skye to school because school is important. But luckily today is not one of those days. Today Skye and I can spend some
much needed mom/daughter time and get ready for her birthday (another source of stress for her)
I’m sure that as children my kids will attempt to manipulate this luxury (as I did as a child, sorry mom…) but it is up to Joel and I to know or kids enough to spot the difference. I pray we will be able to cut through things to see what’s at the core. To be honest it is hard for me sometimes. The old day treatment therapist rears her head and reminds me about consistency and such. Last night it was actually Joel that saw it wasn’t about the ice cream (the broken promise) and that Skye needed some mom time. Sometimes as a parent mental health training works against you! I’m so glad to be partnering with an amazing man on this crazy journey.