Claire Gillespie explains that personal days for her kids involve "no screens, an adequate amount of fresh air" and "healthy food before treats"

By Jen Juneau
May 06, 2019 01:30 PM
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Adults sometimes take personal days off, so Claire Gillespie wants to know one thing: Why not kids, too?

The U.K.-based writer and mother of two opened up in an essay for Parents about why she lets her children take “mental health” days off from school — and how she isn’t worried about it becoming a habit, given that both of her kids “love school.”

“Before you call child services, this is not a regular occurrence,” Gillespie writes. “My kids don’t get to take every second day off school just because they feel like it (or want to play the Xbox all day). In fact, it happened only three times during the last school year.”

“I believe that for a child who is generally happy and healthy, taking a personal day can be a positive thing,” she adds. “I don’t use the day to treat something that’s ‘wrong’ with my child; I use it as a time for reflection. It’s a breather, not an escape, from life, and only one of many steps I take to keep my kids’ mental health on track.”

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Sisters hanging out at home
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Child relaxing at home
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Gillespie describes her children, whom she co-parents, as “secure and happy” kids who are “doing well at school” and have no mental-health struggles that she knows of — “But that doesn’t mean they don’t need a mental health checkup,” she notes.

“As someone who does have long-term mental health issues, perhaps I’m more attuned to their mental and emotional needs,” Gillespie explains. “For me, paying attention to my kids’ mental health is just as important as getting them vaccinated against disease and treating them for physical ailments.”

However, “It doesn’t always result in a day off school. It might be saying no to a play date, or having a weekend of downtime instead of cramming 15 activities into 48 hours.”

Child watching TV
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There are boundaries for the time her kids spend away from school during the week, though. As Gillespie, who works from home, explains, “During these personal days — or ‘mental health’ days, as I call them — we have rules: No screens, an adequate amount of fresh air, healthy food before treats. This is not a sleepover.”

“However, we do sometimes grab a duvet and bed down on the sofa to watch movies,” she continues. “It’s all about de-stressing, chilling out and not having to make any important decisions or worry about anything that can wait until tomorrow.”

“Too many people don’t know how to make self-care a priority,” Gillespie writes in conclusion. “Of course, I want my children to work hard and learn how to overcome obstacles. I also want them to know that they have permission to take time out when it’s needed. Hopefully that’s something they’ll take with them into adulthood and live a happier, healthier life because they look after their minds just as much as their bodies.”