Kids

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Kids Have A Pandemic Wall, Too. Give Them A Day Off.

COVID-19 has increased anxiety and negative behavior in our kids — the case for "mental health days" has never been clearer.

My 6-year-old's name means "joy" and everyone agrees she's perfectly named. Endlessly enthusiastic, optimistic, and encouraging, she's a ray of sunshine. But the pandemic has taken a toll. At times she's become anxious. Fragile. This past Monday, I could see the very thin thread she was hanging on start to snap, and I told her to take the day off. I've always been a proponent of "mental health days" for my kids. Now, a year into an all-consuming pandemic, I believe more than ever that we need to let our kids ditch school.

I'll preface this all by saying I'm neither a child psychologist nor educator. I'll also add a little disclaimer to assure actual child psychologists, educators, and other parents who are perhaps horrified by my suggestion that when I say "kids need to ditch school," I'm not talking about routine absenteeism (which, according to a survey from Education Week has doubled in the pandemic). Kids need to be in school — remote, in-person, homeschooled, hybrid, whatever. Even imperfect school is better than nothing, not only for their own edification but to show some well-deserved respect to the teachers and administrators who continue to bust their butts every day to do the impossible and keep schools running.

But.

I am a mother. And I've watched both my children become stressed and tired as they take on every challenge we've throw at them and, sometimes, they deserve a break from all the throwing.

Let's face it: we don't know what we're doing half the time in these "unprecedented times", but we're asking our kids to trust us and, please, do what we ask, as much for our benefit as theirs, because we need them to go along. And, like little improv comedians, they've responded to our all of our half-baked schemes with "Yes, and..."

No playing with your friends.

"Yes, and..."

No going to school or, going to school under incredibly bizarre circumstances that are often subject to change at a moment's notice.

"Yes, and..."

Mommy is here in the house with you, but she is working and cannot pay you the kind of attention you deserve. Sometimes, she's going to snap; please don't take it personally...

"Yes, and..."

No birthday parties, family get-togethers, vacations, gatherings of any kind, and please wear this low-key annoying mask whenever you leave the house.

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But, compliance with this towering list of (necessary!) demands takes a toll. And over time, even our joyful, flexible, sunshiny children start to change. Minor inconveniences become triggers for huge, emotional outbursts because the weight of so. many. inconveniences. becomes too much to carry. I genuinely feel my children have earned just about every one of the (more than average) tantrums they've thrown in the past year.

Any parent can, certainly, share their own anecdotes, but there is data to support the idea that even physically healthy children are suffering in this pandemic. Findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association show that, in 2020, hospitalization for suicide attempts and disruptive behavior disorders increased by 20 and 40% respectively.

And at least in my family, school — particularly remote school with hours spent in front of a screen that reminds them that there's a world out there they cannot participate in (while in few view of all their toys and creature comforts!) — is probably their main source of anxiety and stress. Based on conversations I've had with my parent friends all over the world, I know I'm not alone.

So, every now and then, I think it's not only OK, but often necessary to zoom out (no pun intended), take a breath, and then give your child a day off.

I can understand reluctance: how can our kids afford to lose even more school hours? A report from McKinsey & Company shows that the average student could lose five months of learning by June of 2021 (and those numbers are, tragically and predictably, even higher for poor children and children of color). But, the way I see it is this: even if my children attend every single Zoom lesson, complete every assignment, and otherwise do everything, 100% correctly under these new COVID normals, they're still going to be "behind." They're only going to catch up once school returns to a steady, familiar normal. But while one day of school isn't going to be the make or break of their academic future, it can be the difference between breaking down and having the emotional energy to keep going, for just a little bit longer, because it looks like there might finally be an end in sight.

I can't give my kids this year back. But I still have the power to give them a day, and sometimes a day can make all the difference in the days that follow.