Keeping your child happy, healthy and safe during the school holidays

headspace is encouraging parents and carers to think about their child’s mental health over the holidays, with research showing 1 in 7 school-aged children has experienced a mental health condition.

headspace Head of Direct Clinical Services Vikki Ryall said holidays were a good time to tune in to a child’s emotions, pay deeper attention to any unusual behaviour, and try to open up communication.

“A break from school and lots of extra hours together as a family can be a great experience, but for some families it is a challenging time when concerns emerge,” Ms Ryall said.

“Some young people find it isolating to be away from their usual school routines and peer support network. For those struggling to make friends, it can be a lonely time when everyone else seems to be having fun.

“It can be hard as a parent to work out the difference between typical behaviour such as moodiness and irritability, and the signs of an emerging mental health issue. But if you are seeing behaviour that concerns you, help is available.”

Mental health disorders are prevalent in young people. Almost one in seven school-aged children in Australia – an estimated 560,000 students – had a mental disorder in 2013-14 according to the Telethon Kids Institute Young Minds Matter survey.  Examples included anxiety, depression, self-harming behaviours and eating disorders.

Ms Ryall said parents seeing warning signs should encourage their son or daughter to talk openly and honestly about what they are experiencing, and ask what they need.

Most importantly, she said parents should listen to their child’s fears and concerns without judgement and be patient when responding.

“If your child is distressed, don’t tell them to ‘just calm down’ or ‘get over it’; they need to know you are taking them seriously. Avoid judgement and reassure them you are there for them,” she said.

“Let them know that if they don’t want to talk to you, they can talk to other adults they trust or to health professionals through a service like eheadspace. It’s really important for you to support your child in seeking help elsewhere.”

There are many other steps parents and carers can take during these holidays to support children who are having a tough time.

“Simple things such as eating three meals a day and getting a good night’s sleep are important. Maintain a routine to ensure your child is not regularly staying up late, or sleeping in very late the next day,” she said.

“Involve your child in decision-making and give them responsibility at home. One way to do this is to ask them to choose a meal and help prepare it.”

Doing a project - especially one a parent can be part of, such as painting a room – is another way to help young people feel engaged and create an environment where it’s easier to talk.

Other holiday activities to encourage include:

  • Volunteering:  For ideas on how young people can make a difference visit:, or
  • Learning something new:  Whether its photography, music, sport or dance, contact local councils and leisure centres to find out what’s on for children and young people.
  • Organising and exploring:  Make a list of places to visit and things to do, and get out there!  
  • Creative projects: Get those creative juices flowing. Revamp a bedroom or create an art piece.
  • Getting active: Encourage young people to spend time outside, visit a park with friends or family, or walk the dog around the block.

Visit the headspace website to seek help and advice.