A mental health day for adults is one where we take a day off of work or school to relax. It’s often a day where we try and forget about responsibilities and do something that feels good or that we enjoy. It’s known that a day like this can help relieve stress and allow you to actually perform better at work or school when you go back. A mental health day should re-set your mental state. Think of a toddler’s normal day in life as a work or school day for them. Growing up, playing, learning, falling, eating, etc. is a lot of work.
During a toddler’s day they are told ‘no’ quite a bit and for good reason too. A toddler is exploring the world, constantly learning new things, and always pushing their boundaries. As parents it’s our job to set and remind them of those boundaries. You can sometimes see how mentally taxing it can be on toddler to be told ‘no’ all day, often making them feel frustrated and act out in tantrums. My son Jaxon is 22 months and hears ‘no’ most often when he is trying to climb onto furniture or play with my phone. I can also sense intense frustration when he can’t do certain things because his 7 month old brother needs to be fed or other things that draw my attention away. What absolutely drives him crazy is the sound of his brother’s uncontrollable crying when he is having gas or is fussy. Although it’s an essential part of growing up for a toddler to hear ‘no’ or “you can’t do this” and have to deal with things like this in life, it can still be very beneficial for a toddler to have a ‘mental health day.’
Last week I took Jaxon out for his own mental health day trying to tackle three of his biggest areas of frustration as a toddler: climbing on things, his little brother, and being told ‘no.’ I wanted to bring him to more of a controlled environment where I knew I wouldn’t really have to tell him ‘no’ so I took him to a children’s play place…without his brother. He had my full attention! I took off his shoes, put our stuff in cubbies and let his day begin. I had chosen a specific play place that was completely gated in so he couldn’t leave, nor do I really think he understood where the entrance was. I let him show me where he wanted to go first and he took the lead. When he wanted to climb onto something new I helped him. When he wanted to get down I helped him. And when he wanted to do the same thing over and over and over again…I helped him. I was going to let him play as long as his little heart desired and I asked him every now and again if he was thirsty. Sometimes he would say yes and we would grab a quick drink, if he was willing. I let Jaxon play as long as he wanted, never telling him no until he stopped and turned to me while signing for ‘food’ or ‘to eat.’ I asked if he was hungry and he nodded his head yes so I told him we would leave to go eat and he willingly hopped into the stroller. I took him to a restaurant where I knew the food would be prepared quick so he wouldn’t have to work on his patience and it was a place that served his favorite meal. I let Jaxon eat his meal and drink his water and when he asked to try the barbecue sauce I was eating I let him do that too. He signed to me, “all done” so I started packing us up. Again trying to lead all by Jaxon’s cues and what he wanted I asked “do you want to go play more?” Keep in mind on this day he had not napped yet and I wasn’t going to make him. But instead of asking to play he just looked at me and rubbed his eyes. I asked if he wanted to go home and go night-night and he jumped back in the stroller. Getting home he was put in his crib and not a peep was heard from him.
This may sound like a very normal day for a toddler to have, but for Jaxon it wasn’t. It was a day that went exactly how Jaxon wanted it to and everything that was done was the opposite of how it usually is. He is never allowed to climb on furniture, but he was allowed to climb on anything in the play place. He always has his brother around to dictate when mom can give her attention, but that day his brother was home and his mom was fully engaged with him. And finally, he wasn’t told no. He was only asked and told yes. Jaxon may not have noticed, but he was given almost an entire day (until he became in need of a nap) where he wasn’t frustrated, stressed, annoyed, or confused. He was relaxed. He was excited. He was happy.
I’m very aware that you can’t promise a toddler a full day of only “yes.” If Jaxon had decided he didn’t want to be in the car seat to go home, I would have told him ‘no’ when he wanted to get up. Or if Jaxon had somehow found an electrical plug in the play place I would have had to say ‘no.’ But to the best of my ability I tried to create an atmosphere for Jaxon to recharge and be free of the things that cause him so much frustration. Just as for a mental health day for an adult, you need to recognize the appropriate time to take one. If you giving your toddler one every other day it will seem more like a “normal” day for them and that might result in them acting out even more on a normal day as they will be expecting different treatment. You will also not want to make it apparent to the toddler exactly what they are getting. You don’t want to say “tomorrow is a mental health day and I’m going to try and say “yes” to everything you want!” That could easily be taken advantage of by your toddler once they catch on…but rather just mention your plans that you have made for them and do your best to provide a controlled atmosphere where you can give your toddler all the things they need for a relaxing and care-free day. A mental health day for your toddler might look a little different than Jaxon’s, as every child is different, but I encourage you to give them one. Plus it’s always the best feeling to see smiles on their faces when they are doing something they love.
I’m excited for the next mental health day I can give Jaxon. I would love to hear some ideas for your toddler’s mental health days in the comments!