One of the greatest challenges parents face today is protecting their children’s mental health. 

With so many factors like lingering pandemic stress, wars, and excessive screen time, kids’ mental health is deteriorating. 

In fact, the statistics are alarming:

We can’t combat all these issues, but we hope this article can help parents protect and nurture their children’s mental health with science-backed strategies and activities.

Instead of listing out random activities, we’ll base our recommendations on what science says works, and we’ll also present the latest research on what benefits kids’ mental, physical, and psychological health.

In this article, you’ll find: 

  • How to seek professional help
  • The kinds of strategies you can employ to support your kids’ mental health
  • Mental health games and activities for kids of various ages

Before we go any further, if your child is struggling with their mental health, it’s important to talk with a professional. 

While we are here to help you find activities that will benefit your kids’ mental well-being, mental illness requires medical attention. 

Also, know that they (and you!) are not alone.

Here are some helpful resources for helping you find a therapist and/or support group:

If you need immediate support with crisis prevention, here’s where to go:

While we are living with unprecedented challenges that threaten our children’s mental health, there is hope. 

In fact, research points to the fact that indicators of positive mental health, like curiosity, persistence, and self-control are present in most children.  

So while we need to help them stave off the bad, we can also help channel the good — and that’s where the right (science-backed!) mental health activities come in.

We’re going to take you through them and how to implement them.

15 Mental Health Activities for Kids (Structured by Health Goals)

We understand how difficult it can be to factor in new activities, especially as our schedules tend to be jam-packed with work or family commitments.

This is why we’ll provide mental health activities for kids that are genuinely implementable and science-backed, so it’s worth your time. 

Each of our groups of mental health activities for kids is linked to a specific goal so that you know exactly why you’re doing it. Note that many of them tick more than one box.

Here’s everything we’ll cover, in brief:





Encourage real-world play.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.


Decorate tech-free spaces in your home.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Spend more time with your kids.


Enjoy shared screen time. 

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.

Spend more time with your kids.


Schedule a daily “connect” time.

Spend more time with your kids.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.


Plan outdoor family adventures.

Spend more time with your kids.

Limit screen time and internet usage.


Go on an adventure of their choosing.

Spend more time with your kids.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.


Make art!

Practice social-emotional learning.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Teach children healthy habits.


Listen to music

Practice social-emotional learning.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Teach children healthy habits.


Do chores together.

Practice social-emotional learning.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Spend more time with your kids.

Teach children healthy habits.


Set up a reading bedtime ritual.

Encourage children to read more.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.

Spend more time with your kids.


Let your kids choose their books.

Encourage children to read more.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.

Teach children healthy habits.


Get them to read the book of a movie they like.

Encourage children to read more.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Teach children healthy habits.


Cook together.

Teach children healthy habits.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.

Spend more time with your kids.


Eat together.

Teach children healthy habits.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.

Spend more time with your kids.


Engage in a low-to-moderate exercise program.

Teach children healthy habits.

Limit screen time and internet usage.

Practice social-emotional learning.

Let’s dive into these in more detail.

1. Limit screen time and internet usage [Importance: High]

One of the biggest dangers to our kids’ mental health is excessive screen time. 

According to research published in the National Library of Medicine, excessive screen time can lead to a range of detrimental effects on social and psychological growth in children.

It can also fuel aggressive behavior and make it more difficult for kids to interpret the emotions of others.

We’re coming to better understand how too much screen time can also increase the likelihood of:

  • Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression
  • Sleep disorders and disturbances
  • Obesity
  • Reduced physical activity

And lead to:

  • Worse academic performance
  • Decreased executive function (skills related to memory, planning, paying attention, and handling multiple tasks at once)
  • Delayed language and motor skills development

These can further contribute to our children’s coping skills and sense of well-being.

So, what helps?

The authors of this study say:

“Parents play a crucial role in managing and reducing screen time by raising awareness, setting boundaries, and providing behavioral controls.”

They suggest that the most effective strategies are:

Placing time limits on screen usage. 

As we learn more about the negative sides of excessive screen time, it’s becoming clear that it’s our responsibility to limit screen usage.

But the question is — how much is too much screen time for kids?

According to the WHO, children between 2 and 5 should only be exposed to screens for one hour a week.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says one hour in the week and three on weekends for this age group. 

For older kids, neither organization gives a firm number but both agree that it’s best to keep it to a minimum, with many experts agreeing on a two-hours max a day. 

To ensure your kids stay within these limits, consider using a screen time app like Canopy. 

On Canopy, you can track your kids’ screen usage and block or filter specific apps and websites that they are spending too much time on. 

Canopy also uses a smart AI filter that scans images and content in real-time and blocks inappropriate or harmful content before it even reaches your child’s device.

This means you’re not only limiting their screen usage, but also protecting them from harmful content online. 

You can also schedule internet downtimes where your kids won’t be able to access the internet (but they’ll still be able to use their devices).

For instance, you can set the downtime during dinner so you can have quality time with your kids without any digital interruptions. 

Check out an in-depth review of Canopy from a *real* parent:

Not allowing screens in bedrooms. 

Research has proven that screens in children’s bedrooms harm their emotional and physical well-being.

For instance, one study found that having a TV in children’s bedrooms at age 6 forecasted lower levels of emotional understanding at age 8. 

Another found that having TV/technology in the bedroom negatively impacts sleep for preschool children. It’s safe to say that bedrooms should be strictly a screen-free zone.

We recommend you remove all digital devices from your kid’s bedroom. This includes TVs, tablets, smartphones, and even portable gaming devices. 

Also, using Canopy’s internet downtime feature, you can block access to the internet in the evenings or one hour before your kid goes to bed.

This makes sure your child gets quality sleep at night and they can wake up fresh and happy. 

Managing one’s own screen usage so that you can model behavior.

When it comes to screen time, research shows that children who see their parents looking at screens all the time tend to do the same.

By reducing your own screen time, you’re not only fostering a stronger bond with your toddler but also modeling how to manage and prioritize screen time.

We wrote a comprehensive guide on how to reduce screen time for adults.

So what activities can help you achieve this goal?

Here are 3 things you can do:

Activity #1: Encourage real-world play. 

To get your kids off their screens, offer an alternative way to spend their time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is clear about their prescription. It’s play!

Not only does play decrease their screen time, but it also has a host of other benefits including helping them learn to:

  • Plan and organize
  • Get along well with others
  • Regulate emotions
  • Deal with stress

Prescription to Play

Source: A prescription from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Here are some age-appropriate playtime activities:

  • For toddlers, the AAP recommends unstructured playtime — letting them follow their own curiosity and imagination to discover the world around them.

They recommend objects such as blocks, empty containers, wooden spoons, and puzzles as great complements to their exploring.

None of these has to be expensive — many can be found around the house.

Other recommendations include parent-supervised play (a great opportunity to learn how to socialize with others) and playing make-believe!

  • For slightly older kids, mine from your childhood favorites.

Building a fort, making playdough, playing dress up, or having a treasure hunt never go out of style. Again, giving them time for unstructured play is vital.

Getting physical in a safe environment is also important. Outdoor parks are a great option if you have one in your area.

  • For teens, it can be a little more challenging to find enticing screen-less activities, but it is possible.

The answer won’t be the same for every tween and teen, so some digging is required here.

Board games, arts and crafts, and sporting activities can all get them away from their phones and offer stimulating activities.  

Activity #2: Decorate tech-free spaces in your home.

Our phones can go with us into so many spaces.

Finding a spot in your home that is totally device-free can provide a mental health sanctuary for both you and your kids. Involve your kids in setting up the space.

Choose posters to put up, create a mini library, and set up a games and activities box. It’s also a good idea to extend the tech-free rule to wherever you have your meals.

  1. Enjoy shared screen time. 

The reality is that screens aren’t going anywhere. Plus, they can have benefits when used effectively.

This research, which looked at the effects of screen time on pre-schoolers during and after the pandemic, showed that screens can have some advantages — but the key here is for parents to get involved in how they are used.

Using screens together can help your kids connect what they see on the screen to what is going on in the world around them. 

It also means they can communicate with loved ones far away and engage in interactive storytelling.

For older kids, the principles are the same. Engaging with apps, watching movies together, and playing games as a family are all beneficial.

Common Sense Media is a good resource for parents and educators to help find the right, age-appropriate content for them to consume.

As we know, the internet is filled with spaces that children can access that they shouldn’t. Putting boundaries around their internet usage can feel impossible if you have to do it alone.

Using Canopy to protect them from harmful and inappropriate content when you’re not there is vital.

Unlike most parental control apps that match images to databases or reports, Canopy uses an AI Smart Filter to understand content on an app or website in real-time, and blocks out inappropriate content before it even reaches your kid’s device.

It filters out not just full nude pictures but also partial nudity.

This means even if your kid is on a “safe” app like TikTok, they will never be exposed to inappropriate content.

Try Canopy for 7 days free here.


Goal: Spend (A Lot) of Time With Your Kids [Importance: High]

With all the challenges of our modern world, fitting in quality time with your kids is often easier said than done. Sometimes, it can feel like a miracle that everyone’s fed and clothed. 

The reality is, however, that spending intentional time with your kids is vital for their mental health. 

As Dr Gabor Maté and Dr Gordon Neufeld (co-author of Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers) point out:

“The essential condition for healthy development is the child’s relationship with nurturing adults.”

This study backs up their sentiments, revealing that the quality time parents spend with their children directly correlates with their mental well-being and, in turn, their academic performance.

Here are a few activities that will help you factor in quality time with your kids. (And before we dive in, be kind to yourself. We’re all doing our best!)

Schedule a daily “connect” time.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children suggests a daily check-in of some sort.

While they advise that the best option is a face-to-face meeting, they acknowledge that this is not always possible with our busy schedules.

On the days when this is too much to ask, a note in their lunch bag or near their toothbrush can be a wonderful reminder that you’re there for them.

Plan outdoor family adventures.

Studies show that for young children, the benefits of play are only increased in nature-based environments.

For older kids, the same rules apply. Research shows that outdoor activities can have a direct impact on the mental health and well-being of adolescents.

This study of The Get Outside: After School Activity Program (GO-ASAP) showed the very tangible benefits, including:

  • Improved sleep
  • Feeling less stress
  • Better dietary habits
  • Less time on their phones (yep, that’s ticking another box)
  • Feeling more connected to others
  • Increased confidence in their abilities
  • More independence

Let them choose their own adventure!

Not only will this foster a sense of independence and agency, but it will also give you clues about your child’s interests.

This may mean you spend the day in an Escape Room or playing in an arcade.

Who knows? You may just check in with your own inner child.

Goal: Practice “Social-Emotional” Learning with Your Child [Importance: High]

Social-emotional learning is the development of all the important personal skills you need to manage work and life, including self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. 

It can help you learn how to work with others and express your feelings, even when they’re negative.

Your child’s social and emotional health matters just as much as their academic performance — and is, in fact, very linked to it. 

The research is clear: social-emotional learning helps children become more:

  • motivated to learn
  • positive toward school
  • eager to participate at school
  • academically successful 

So important is this kind of learning, that social-emotional learning (SEL) programs are now being adopted in schools

And this is big!

Research from Yale University showed that students who participate in social-emotional learning programs in school are less likely to report feelings of:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts

So what can you do as a parent to help foster this kind of learning? Here are some ideas.

Make art! 

Expressing ourselves through art is an incredible way to get us to better understand our inner worlds and foster mental wellness. 

According to this study of 300 preschoolers, arts education affects children’s knowledge of emotions and social-emotional abilities.

Art projects can be simple (crayons, paper, and an imagination will do)! Or more complicated, if you’re in the mood. 

One interesting option is to make puppets that express different feelings. This can help young children speak about their feelings using the crafts they’ve created.

And this is not just for young kids. Research has shown that art therapy can have a positive effect on the mental health of adolescents. 

Listen to music.

This may come as no surprise if a song has ever made you cry or picked you up after a rough day — music education is connected to social-emotional learning, helping kids recognize and manage emotions and improving the quality of their social relationships.

Spend some time listening to music together.

Teach them about your favorite bands and let them show you yours. If they’re into it, see if they want to pick up an instrument. 

Do chores together.

Need a wall painted? A floor mopped? The laundry folded?

Not only will you get some assistance with household tasks, but you can also teach your kids valuable skills in the meantime.

Of course, it’s important to learn how to use a mop — but just as vital is to learn how to cooperate and see a task through.

Goal: Encourage Children to Read More [Importance: Medium]

If you know the pleasure of settling down with a good book, we don’t need to tell you that reading comes with all sorts of mental health benefits. 

Research from the University of Cambridge showed that reading for pleasure early in childhood is linked to mental well-being in adolescence. It’s also linked to better memory, speech development, and academic achievement.

Stories also help us build resilience, empathy, and emotional intelligence — all of which factor into mental health.

Here are some ideas: 

 Set up a reading bedtime ritual.

A bedtime reading ritual is not only a wonderful way for you to spend time together every day, but it can also help cultivate your kids’ love of reading. You can read to them or they can read to you, depending where they’re at on their literacy journey.

Warning: favorites may crop up that you’ll have to read more than once!

 Let your kids choose the books they like.

If you don’t know where to start, take them to browse the YA (young adult) or kids sections of your local library or bookstore. If they gravitate towards graphic novels, this can also be a great place to start. 

Common Sense Media talks about how YA books can be particularly compelling for teens once they discover them:

“YA (young adult) novels tackle the edgy issues teens struggle with, from peer pressure and romantic longing to grief and trouble at home or school. Whether they're personally grappling with these issues or seeking vicarious thrills, teens gravitate toward subject matter that's relatable.”

Get them to read the book of a movie they like.

If you’re struggling to get your teens to see the joys of reading for fun, try to match up their reading material with movies they like.

Seeing their favorite characters on the page could be a catalyst to explore other books.

Goal: Teach Children Healthy Habits [Importance: Medium]

It’s never too early to teach your kids habits that will benefit their mental health.

In this study on the effects of nutrition and exercise on the mental wellness of preschool children, two important findings were made — healthy habits can be used as both a preventative and treatment measure for mental health challenges.

Also, remember to be kind to yourself. There are so many reasons for mental health difficulties in people of all ages. 

If your child is struggling, it’s not because you didn’t teach them the right habits.

Cultivating habits that benefit our mental health can be helpful at any age and, while important, it’s just one piece of a very complex puzzle.

With that in mind, here are some ideas!

 Cook together.

Best-selling author Johann Hari’s book Stolen Focus details the barriers we experience to paying attention.

One of his key findings is that the way we eat in the West damages our attention and focus.

Eating predominantly processed foods can:

  • Cause huge energy spikes and crashes
  • Deprive us of key nutrients
  • Stimulate our brains because of the dyes and chemicals they contain

One way we can encourage healthy eating is to cook with our children, showing them how to make healthy recipes.

There’s also research to support that cooking may improve self-esteem and have a positive influence on socialization.

 Eat together.

Studies show that routine family meal times are associated with less risk of:

  • disordered eating
  • alcohol and substance abuse
  • feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts in adolescents

They also have the potential to increase self-esteem and help your kids’ academic performance.

(If you’re struggling to get the screens off so that you can enjoy this time together, remember Canopy. It can help you do just that! Learn more about how internet downtimes work on Canopy here.)

 Engage in a Low-to-Moderate Exercise Programs.

The research is clear:

  • This study showed that a low-to-moderate exercise program can significantly reduce depression and anxiety symptoms in 9 to 11-year-olds.
  • This study concluded that there is “increasingly strong evidence” to use physical activity to help improve, prevent, and manage mental health challenges.
  • This study illustrated the significant mental health benefits of exercise for young children. Interestingly, kids who were more physically active at ages 5 and 6 had fewer peer problems at ages 10 and 11.

So what does “low to moderate exercise” for kids mean?

The CDC recommends that exercise for kids between the ages 6 to 17 should first and foremost be fun and age appropriate. They need to want to do it!

They should engage in 60 minutes or more of exercise daily as follows:

And this concludes our guide on mental health activities for kids. 

We hope that this article was helpful in understanding what works and what doesn’t (based on science) in protecting and nurturing your child’s mental health.

Again, please be kind to yourself and your kid, and you need professional help, please scroll to the top of the article for a list of helpful resources to look for a therapist and/or support group.

And if you need a parental control app to protect your children online, consider Canopy. You can start your 7 days free trial here. 

If you need more options for parental control or screen time apps, please check out our guides:


Mental Health Activities for Kids – FAQs

There’s no one answer here except to say: as much as possible.

Research shows that there’s a direct correlation between the amount of time parents spend with their kids and their overall well-being. 

But it’s not just about the hours you clock up. It’s about how you spend those hours.

Eat meals together, celebrate their achievements, talk through their hardships — and try to do as much of this as possible without screens in the mix.

All families are different in their needs and makeup.

Go for activities that are fun for your family, help you get to know what’s going on in each other’s lives, and create special memories.

Anything that is active and can be done in nature is of special benefit to mental health. 

And this doesn’t mean you have to do everything to arrange an outing.

Get them involved in the planning of a picnic, ask them to set up the board for a game, or pick a favorite destination to visit.

Some ideas for family activities include:

  • Hiking
  • Riding bikes
  • Playing cards or board games
  • Visiting a museum
  • Seeing a natural wonder in your area (it can be as simple as looking up at the stars together at night)
  • Camping, either by planning a trip or setting up tents inside
  • Make art together, from finger painting to mask-making
  • Dress up! (For the dramatically inclined, you may even consider putting on a show)
  • Enjoy shared screen time together by having a movie night

The good news is you don’t have to do it alone.

The Canopy parental control app allows you to set screen time limits, filter content (in real time!) that is harmful and inappropriate, and block apps that you don’t want them to have access to.

The reality is, screens aren’t going anywhere. While they may pose a threat to our children’s mental health, there are ways to use them positively.

As this study shows, using screens actively rather than passively in ways that encourage physical activity and learning, and modeling good behavior can help us make the most of our devices without letting them negatively affect our family’s lives.

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Ready to get started?

We built Canopy to empower families to enjoy a safer digital experience.

You’re not in this alone.

Get helpful tips, stories, and resources from our network.

You’re not in this alone.

Get helpful tips, stories, and resources from our network.