A day off school for no reason other than your parents said it was OK? What kid wouldn’t love that?
For 11-year-old Brylee, it’s a gift-horse that comes around once a term as a part of her mum’s strategic plan to ensure that all of her children have the best frame of mind to get through everything on their busy schedules – and hopefully minimise the chance of mental illness.
“Mental health is on the top of my priority list”
Mum of three Jo began giving her eldest daughter Brylee ‘Doona Days’ once a term when she hit Year 5, and it’s something she plans on continuing when her other children reach the same age.
“Being the eldest child in the house, Brylee has a lot going on with our work schedules, her siblings, and school,” says Jo.
“We as a family have a long family history of depression and other mental illnesses, so it plays a big part in my life. I’m hyper-aware that exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed contributes greatly to those feelings, so the ‘Doona Days’ came about as a pro-active way of making sure my kids had the best possible chance of avoiding those issues.”
11-year-old Brylee enjoys downtime from school and special time with her mum one day a term
By term two of year five, Jo had noticed Brylee becoming a bit withdrawn and alarm bells rang. So she began a conversation to see what was going on.
“She was struggling socially at school and it was having an impact on her work. She started internalising, she was becoming a shadow of herself, so, I took her out for lunch, a shop and a long chat.
She identified that it wasn’t just her time at school that was the problem but also her days alone with me had become non-existent because of my work and her siblings.” says Jo.
“It wasn’t a nice feeling for me to hear that, I can’t imagine what it was like for her to be thinking that. So, I we decided that we will have ‘a day’ each term. One when I am not working and the other two are at school, so we can chat and reconnect – and that’s how the ‘Doona Days’ came about.”
The positive results are clear to see
Despite the strong presence of mental health issues in her family, it was just never something that was addressed when Jo was growing up.
“Mental health just wasn’t spoken about. If we were struggling with anything, the response was almost a ‘suck it up’ attitude. “Ignore it and it will go away”, those words ring in my head, and I really think that’s a dangerous attitude. ” says Jo.
As for Brylee, Jo says the immediate effect on her general happiness is noticable for weeks following the days that she has to recharge.
“There is a definite difference in her demeanour, and our relationship. She and I have more of an understanding. She’ll open up about what’s going on when she’s home, and we have real time to connect so she’s more aware that I am on top of a situation and can help her through it.” says Jo.
“She’ll also chat more in the weeks following, and we can quickly refer back to the chats we’ve had if any issues arise in her life. That one day off school is totally worth it, as far as I am concerned.”
Jo’s three kids: Brylee, Kimba and Callum
What do educators think of the idea?
Former high school-principal Cheryl endorses parents taking their children’s mental well-being into consideration.
“Teachers openly discuss their “mental health” days, usually taken to relieve the stress of teaching, planning, marking, being parents themselves etc. So I think it’s a great idea for a parent to allow a child to nominate a day for themselves to recharge too.” she says.
Likewise, high-school teacher Peta says that as long as the decision is a considered one, there is nothing wrong with allowing your child a day off school once in a while.
” There are so many kids suffering with anxiety these days, it’s probably a good thing. As long as the parent ensures that it doesn’t become a regular habit, and that they are aware of what their child may be missing at school, and makes sure that they are prepared to catch up, I think there’s probably a lot to recommend the occasional mental health day.”
Former teacher, Janine Mergler’s son Alex loves school, and she tries to accommodate that with additional learning where she can, but the strain, if left unchecked, could have a negative impact. So for her, giving him a day off school every now and then is a no-brainer.
“He had one last week,” she says. “He’d been to two ‘enrichment days’ for ‘bright minds’ and he was exhausted. It wasn’t planned or organised but we discussed that he had worked hard at this event and he needed to have a ‘mental health’ day to regroup and rest. He loves school and learning and I’m happy for him to be part of other learning opportunities and activities, even if this means a day off regular school sometimes.”
“It’s not a day to splurge and spoil,”
Jo says the whole idea of the ‘doona day’ is to do nothing.
“There’s no point in having it at all if we jam-pack it with activities.” she says.
“We laze about and do nothing on those days. We might bake something, if the mood takes us, but no specific jobs for a set time are planned out. It’s a ‘doona day’ after all!”
Another supporter of a snuggle day is Sydney mum Alex, who says she gets as much out of it as her son, but she has to watch that he doesn’t become too accustomed to being at home.
“I was never allowed doona days when I was a kid – you had to lose limb before my mum would let you stay home. I’m much softer – and my son talks me into a snuggly day at home every so often. But then of course he starts pushing the envelope – one a term starts to look like one a fortnight. Kids!”
If you’re thinking of adopting this idea yourself, an important thing to keep in mind is the reason having the day in the first place. Let them choose when they need it, but talk about why they want it – makes sure it’s not because they don’t want to face school or something happening there – if they are simply pooped because of their schedules, well, why not.
Everyone needs a doona day now and then, even kids.