Earlier this year, when Madalyn Parker needed some time off to focus on her mental health, she emailed her co-workers to let them know.

“Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100 [per cent],” she wrote in the message.

The response from her CEO shocked the internet, and the exchange went viral.

“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending e-mails like this,” he wrote. “Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.” He responded.

This has led to an increase in stories on mental health, and the importance of taking care of yourself. But what about your kids?

The answer to this one isn’t cut and dried. On one hand, it may be necessary to give your kid some downtime and on the other, it can actually be more harmful than good to them.

How to identify if a mental health day is necessary:

If your child were to wake up one day with a fever, there would be no question: they are staying home from school. However, with mental health, it’s far more difficult to recognize when a day of rest is needed. For some kids, they need to learn to power through the difficult things.

Many children are far more capable than they believe, so the discomfort leading up to the scary activity is nothing compared to the joy of success. If you find your child is feeling so bad that it’s making it difficult for them to even function, a mental health day may be in order.

By letting your child take the occasional mental health day — maybe once or twice a year — you’re teaching them the value of taking care of their minds as well as their bodies. This mental health day can also be a great opportunity for them to sharpen their emotional skills.

How to use a mental health day:

So, now you’ve made the call to keep your child home for the day. How can you make the most of it? Chances are, letting them spend all day in bed watching Netflix would make them feel happy — but that happiness only lasts the day. Use this day as an opportunity to help them in the long-run. Some ways you can effectively use your child’s mental health day are:

1: Problem solve

Perhaps there is one obstacle in your child’s life that is causing them MAJOR stress. You could turn the mental health into a problem-solving day. Either sit down with your kid and discuss the issue at hand and solutions to it or meet with someone who can help.

2: Show, tell, and practice self-care

If your child is completely drained, take the day to teach them about self-care. This could be the day where you jumpstart some healthier habits that help them in the long run! These habits could include, going to sleep earlier, eating healthier, and incorporating more exercise into their routine.

3: Connect with a professional

If your child is really struggling, find help. Make an appointment with your kid’s pediatrician to talk about their mental health needs. Your physician may even recommend a mental health professional if they deem it necessary.

How NOT to use a mental health day:

A mental health day is not a temporary escape. It’s not a day where your child can forget that his/her problems exist. Mental health days used in this way actually hurt more than they help. Mental health days don’t make your problems go away, and so when they get back to school the following day they will be just as ill-equipped and stressed. To have a good mental health day, avoid these activities:

1: Binge-watching TV

Kids love TV, and it seems like a relaxing thing to do, so win-win, right? Wrong. Research shows that binge-watching TV is bad for mental health — it increases feelings of loneliness and/or depression.

2: Spending the day in bed

Being inactive can actually worsen your child’s symptoms. Even if your child has had trouble sleeping, and is somewhat sleep deprived, don’t let them sleep too long! By letting them sleep more than usual, and at the wrong times, you can disrupt their sleep schedule and set them farther back.

3: Making the day a reward

Taking a mental health day is not a punishment! But, it also isn’t a day to drop everything and just have fun. It can be very tempting to take your child out for lunch or spend the day at the playground. However, when you do so, you send the wrong message — that mental health days are just days to skip school and have fun.

Building mental strength is important. If you find your child needs more than one or two mental health days a year, it could be a symptom of poor coping strategies, the need for more guidance, or the need for professional intervention. And while not every mental illness can be prevented — just like physical illness — you can take steps to build a mentally stronger child. This will help keep them emotionally fit, and ready for whatever life throws their way.