I Let My Kids Play Hooky From School Because Mental Health Days Are Important

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
A mom standing and holding hands with her kid whom she lets play hooky
MoMo Productions/Getty

Do you ever just need a day? You know, one where you can sleep in or watch TV all day? Maybe go to lunch with a friend and have a glass of wine or two? We all need those days. It is good for our minds, our bodies, and our souls. That is not reserved for adults. Kids need to play hooky from time to time too.

I let my kids skip school sometimes, and I am not afraid to admit it. I don’t lie about it to their teachers either. If I am nothing in life, I am honest, and filled with Irish Catholic guilt, so I will say my child just needs a day off. Sometimes it’s just one kid, other times, it is all four. It just depends on how the mood catches me.

So what does a typical hooky day look like? Well, you certainly don’t have to get dressed or take a shower at 6 in the morning if you don’t want to. If we have planned hooky the night before, I won’t even bother to wake my kids up. They can sleep as long as they want. Unless of course we have something fun planned. On a hooky day, you eat what you want, you have as much screen time as your heart’s desire and you lay around all day long. Those are my kinds of days.

Planned hooky days are great, but I think I like the spontaneous ones even better. Those are truly choosing your own adventure kind of days. We have a lot to do in the city where we live, so that may mean a trip to the zoo or the botanical gardens. Maybe we will go see a daytime movie and eat popcorn and ice cream for lunch. The sky’s the limit on a hooky day.

Recently I blew it and forgot to schedule my kids’ annual picture with Santa Claus. This is a do not miss for us and due to COVID, it is by appointment only. I waited way too late in the season to get ours on the calendar and the only times left were smack dab in the middle of the school day. Sure, I could have taken them to school for a couple of hours, picked them up and dropped them back off when we were finished. That just seemed like a lot of unnecessary driving. Plus, if I don’t have to get up at 6 on a random Wednesday, I am taking advantage of it.

That day started out with a trip to their grandparents’ house for hot, buttery pancakes with lots of sticky syrup. They watched a little TV, played on their devices, and just decompressed. They were happy to do nothing for a change. And that made me happy. When it was time to get ready for the picture, there were no attitudes or crabbiness. We weren’t rushing to keep a crazy tight schedule; they were just going with the flow.

I feel like that is what is missing in my life sometimes. It feels like every minute of our lives is following some sort of schedule. We have sports, scouts, dance, speech team, chess team, and somehow we have to squeeze in school, showers, and a dinner with the family. It is a lot on me, but it is a lot on my kids too.

Almost every night of the week there is at least one thing on the calendar. Sometimes, they just need a break. I know that I need a break, so why shouldn’t they?

I am not one to aspire to having perfect attendance. For me, that is a waste of energy. Perfect anything is too much for me and I don’t want that pressure put on my kids either. I want them to understand that their mental health is just as important as their physical health. I have explained to them that if they are feeling particularly overwhelmed to come to me and we will work out a solution to make them feel better.

They are totally allowed to ask me for a hooky day. Sometimes they get it, and sometimes they don’t. This isn’t something that I am doing on a regular basis, but I would say that they each get one per semester — just a day to decompress and forget about the outside pressures. This isn’t just my older kids; I let my younger two do it too. Mental health has no age requirements.

I hope that as my children grow, they will remember their hooky days fondly. Childhood is a blink; I want my kids to get the most out of theirs. And there is so much more to life than being in a classroom. Yes, education is important, but so is holding your mom’s hand as your browse the toy aisle uninterrupted. There is something to be said for curling up with a blanket and your dog on a random Tuesday and watching a movie while you should be in math class. And yes, it is perfectly OK, every once in a while, to wake up and spend the day on the town with your siblings just because.

Life is short. Childhood is shorter. Soak it all up while you can, even if that means playing hooky for a day.