Why I let my children have 'mental health days'

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Mental health days are just as important for children as they are for adults and I make sure my kids get time-off regularly.

I want to help them recognise when they need to take time out to recharge their heart, mind and soul.

It's important to show them that mental health is as important as physical health, and taking a day off here-and-there to work on feeling better mentally should never be a source of shame.

Talking about how we're feeling and how to recognise the signs of anxiety, depression and stress is an important part of our home life. We discuss mental health, as we do physical health.

I can tell when one of my children need a day to recharge their soul because they're more tired than usual, find it difficult getting to sleep at night, change their eating habits, are grumpy and often retreat to their room to be alone.

It's different to regular kid and teen behaviour, there's a shift in their ability to find their joy. And when you can't find your joy, there's a problem.

We take the time to chat, to find out if there is something serious going on in their world – bullying, problems with schoolwork, friendship issues or general worries life. And then, when I know some time out will help, I declare the need for a mental health day.

I encourage them to get outside in nature or do something creative they enjoy. I give them yummy food. I let them lie in bed and read or use their iPad. I don't fill their days with activities. I give them the space they need to be quiet. It's like plugging them back into the soul recharger.

ReachOut CEO Ashley de Silva said teaching kids how to relax was important for their health and wellbeing.

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"Taking a day or even an hour to relax is something that has the potential to have a big impact on how a young person is feeling and how they deal with whatever life throws at them," Mr de Silva said.

He suggested parents and young people develop a wellbeing rating with 10 being smiles all round and 1 being pretty awful.

"If they answer four or lower, it might be a good time to open up a conversation about what needs to happen to bring them up to a seven or check out ReachOut.com together for some advice," Mr de Silva said.

"Check-in on your children's wellbeing number regularly to spot trends and act quickly."

Dr Brooklyn Storme is a big supporter of kids taking time out.

"Children absolutely need mental health days in the same way that adults do," Dr Storme said.

"Teaching little ones how to tell if they are feeling stressed or anxious is a tool that they'll take and use right through adolescence and into adulthood so it's imperative to their wellbeing that they learn these skills now."

These are some of her simple tips to teach kids how to manage stress:

  • Help children understand the difference in how their body feels when they're calm and relaxed and when they are stressed or anxious.
  • Guide children to identify their early warning signs.
  • Help children to invoke a tool, technique or strategy that works for them at the first awareness that early warning signs are in play.
  • Teach children a range of tools to use at different times and understand that no one tool will 'fix' everything and that what works now, might be different to what works in the future, in terms of buffering stress.
  • Limit device time to help kids build skills in other areas, which in turn can boost their resilience and make them less susceptible to stress and anxiety in the longer term.
  • Parents can also model coping behaviours for children and this can include things like using sport, for example, to de-stress. Other strategies include talking with family and friends, mindfulness, walking, spending time with animals and sensory techniques like essential oils, soft light, relaxing music and taking a bath.