When Tiffany Turner-Moon’s 13-year-old daughter asks to take a mental health day off from school, she lets her.
“I used to be a parent who was like, ‘My kid had to have perfect attendance and had to be on honor roll,’” Turner-Moon tells TODAY.com. “It took her telling me that I put too much pressure on her to get me to kind of reevaluate and say to myself, ‘You know what, she can miss a couple of days and still be on honor roll.’”
But these days off aren’t just vacation time for Turner-Moon’s daughter. They’re dedicated to recharging emotionally and mentally from the stresses of school.
Mental health days for kids
Their days might include anything from “a lunch date and Starbucks and Target run, to an appointment with her therapist or just a walk outside,” the mom explains in one TikTok.
Turner-Moon, or @tiffanytmoon on TikTok, has posted about her approach to letting her 13-year-old daughter take mental health days off from school.
She said her daughter has proven to her over the years that she can take mental health days and still succeed in school.
The concept of taking mental health days off from school or work has been gaining more acceptance and popularity over the past few years.
Experts say it’s a good idea — if parents handle it the right way.
How to handle mental health days
“Actually making that choice is hard, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a good choice,” says Jessi Gold, a psychiatrist and assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and an expert on mental health and burnout.
“We tend to have really high bars for missing anything that’s achievement-related, so work and school fit in there,” Gold told TODAY.com. “Even with physical illness, we tend to have a very, very, very high bar for what counts. And I think mental health struggle is within that because a lot of it is invisible, and it’s hard to explain to people and some people either stigmatize it or don’t understand.”
Proponents say that it can help combat burnout and increase productivity in the long run.
American teens are in a mental health crisis, according to the U.S Surgeon General. In 2021, more than 4 in 10 U.S. high school students felt persistently sad or hopeless, and nearly one-third experienced poor mental health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The COVID-19 pandemic put more stress on teen mental health, according to a 2023 study funded by the National Institute of Health.
When to let kids take mental health days
Gold says strong communication is the first step toward doing mental health days the right way.
“It’s really important that you have open and honest communication and that you understand when your kid is telling you they need something,” she says. “I think it’s important that it’s not such a high bar that they feel like they could have never asked for it, or that they would never ‘earn’ it, I guess you’d say, by being so sad or so anxious.”
Some viewers on TikTok worried about children “abusing” the concept of mental health days. Turner-Moon says communication, again, is the key.
“I grew up in a time where kids were seen and not heard, and mental health wasn’t a ‘thing,’” the mom says. “And my mom is a retired registered nurse, she knows mental health is a thing, but it still wasn’t the same in our household. So I just want to stress — communicate with your kids.”
Turner-Moon says she communicates often with her daughter’s school guidance counselor and principal, so they understand when she takes mental health days and are also able to keep Turner-Moon in the loop about her daughter’s wellbeing at school.
Questions to ask about mental health days
Dr. Marcus Hotaling, director of the Eppler-Wolff Counseling Center at Union College in upstate New York, recommends a few questions to decide whether a teen needs a mental health day.
“Are they still interested in the things that they were interested in?” he said. “Are they wanting to be social? If they’re more of an extroverted student and then all of a sudden they don’t want to be around people, are they exhausted? And it’s not because they’ve been up late or studying late. They’re just worn out. They’re tired. Are they feeling drained?”
Hotaling says another strategy is asking kids to rate their day on a scale of one-ten. Most will opt for six or seven, he says, and rarely give themselves a ten or a one; he recommends looking out for when students start giving consistently lower numbers, like threes.
Hotaling and Gold say mental health days should include fulfilling and rejuvenating activities.
“If you have one day off, it should not be exclusively spent sleeping,” Gold says.
Gold suggests journaling, going to a yoga class, searching for a therapist or making an appointment, making future plans with friends or spending quality time with parents and loved ones.
To parents like Turner-Moon, mental health days are part of raising children who can take care of their mental health in the long run.
“I can’t teach you to take care of yourself other than by doing it myself and then giving you the tools to,” Turner-Moon said.
Esther Sun is an intern for TODAY.com. She loves café-hopping and watching cooking TikToks she knows she will never try.