How to Spend a Mental Health Day With Your Child

Affectionate mother touching noses with her young son

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To achieve healthy mental well-being, we need to take time off work to recharge and rest; children also need it. From completing multiple school assignments and mastering extracurriculars to navigating social pressures, children have a lot on their minds. Here’s how you can spend a mental health day with your child.

What Is a Mental Health Day?

A mental health day is a day to relax, decompress and take care of yourself without engaging in major sources of stress or frustration.

A mental health day for children is similar to those that adults take for work. Children stay home from school that day to reduce stress, take care of their mental health and prevent burning out. It provides an opportunity for them to focus on recharging, recovering from overwhelming stresses, clearing their minds, and resting their bodies.

It’s important to consider a few key things when deciding whether your child should take a mental health day. 

  • Did something happen at school that they don’t want to face and deal with? 
  • Have they been feeling more anxious, upset, or overwhelmed lately?
  • Did they just finish a massive school project? Have they been studying hard for an important exam?
  • Have there been any significant changes or stressful events that happened at home? For instance, divorce, death of a loved one, severe illness, a big move, or job loss.
  • Is there someone that they want to avoid? Do they feel safe going to school?
  • Do they have a lot of homework and due dates to meet?

Understanding your child’s individual needs can determine what will help your child feel better, whether a mental health day is appropriate or a healthcare professional should be consulted.

If they’re wanting to skip school so they can go hang out with their friends or not take a test, those probably aren’t valid reasons for a mental health day.

Benefits of Mental Health Days for Children

Every year, 1 in 6 children between the ages of 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder. In 2019, more than 1 in 3 high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

Mental health days are deliberately called that so that it removes the stigma around seeking care for our emotional well-being. It emphasizes that it’s just as important to take care of our mental health as it is to care for our physical health. It’s a dedicated time and space for a child to take a break.

Burning out and pushing ourselves past our limits does a lot more harm than good. Parents can help children recognize when it’s time to clear their minds, relax, and recharge. Mental health days have been shown to improve the quality of sleep, decrease stress, improve emotional regulation, and increase relaxation.

There has been a legislative trend that recognizes and supports the mental health of our children. Some states have passed legislation that allows students a certain number of mental health days and/or excused absences at school.

Together with Parents, Verywell Mind surveyed over 1,000 American parents or guardians of a child between ages 8-12 or 13-17 to find out more about the impact and use of mental health days for kids.

What to Do On A Mental Health Day With Your Child

Everyone reacts to stress differently and has different ways to cope. Explore a variety of activities with your child and let them take the lead on what’s right for them. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Emotionally Connect

One of the best things you can do for your child on their mental health day is to be present and available. Give your child undivided attention and approach them with openness and honesty. They may not want to share with you right away, but be patient with them. Create a safe space that encourages them to share their concerns. Listen fully, avoid judgment, and don’t jump to conclusions when they speak. Let them know you’re there to support and understand.

A direct conversation about their thoughts and feelings may not work for younger children. Instead, focus on shared activities. They may be more willing to open up while playing together.

Move Your Body

Exercise does wonders not just for your physical body but for your mental health. Movement allows our bodies to naturally release feel-good endorphins and reduce stress hormones. It helps protect against depression and anxiety, improves body image, and increases self-esteem.

Ask your child how they want to move their bodies. If they can’t come up with something, put some fun music on and have an impromptu dance party.

Get Those Creative Juices Flowing

Whether it’s painting, drawing, crafting, journaling, composing a song, or writing a short play, creating art is an effective way to express our thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Focus on having fun and forget about structure and rules. Let their imaginations run wild.

Creative activities such as music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing have been shown to decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances and improve psychological and physical well-being and quality of life.

Let Nature Nurture

Get some fresh air and bask in the outdoors. Go for a walk in the park or have a picnic in the yard. If it’s raining, dress for the weather and find a covered spot to listen to the rain.

Being outdoors has been shown to lower blood pressure, boost mood, improve attention, reduce anxiety and depression and decrease stress hormones.

Practice Mindfulness

Meditation may be difficult for younger children but embedding mindfulness into calming activities can help them appreciate the joy of being and focus on the present.

Sit with your child and ask them to go through all their senses and describe what they’re seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Pretend to be an ice cream cone and slowly melt from head to toe until you’re both puddles on the floor.

Nourish Your Body

During rushed school days, meals can seem like a checkbox. Instead, on your child’s mental health day, slow down and take the time to cook a meal together.

Look for a healthy recipe for your child’s favorite food and prepare it together. While you’re eating it, you can mindfully appreciate the flavors and textures of the ingredients.

Listen to Music

Music is a language that transcends cultures and generations. Ask your child to share with you what they’re listening to.

Listening to music has been shown to decrease stress, promote relaxation, encourage deep breathing and increase energy.

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report 2009–2019

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  5. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: New insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23. doi:10.4155/fso.15.21

  6. National Conference of State Legislatures. States act to allow student mental health days.

  7. American Psychological Association. How and why to get children moving now.

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  9. American Psychological Association. Nurtured by nature.

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By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system.