Does the term "infant mental health" make you think of a baby on a couch telling his problems to a psychiatrist? So what is infant mental health? Infant mental health reflects both the social-emotional capacities and the primary relationships in children birth through age five. Because young children's social experiences and opportunities to explore the world depend on the love and care they receive, the child and the child's relationships are central to "infant mental health." It is essential to ensure that first relationships are trusting and caring, as early relationships provide an important foundation for later development.
The first years of life provide the basis for children's mental health and social-emotional development. Social development includes the ability to form healthy relationships with others, and the knowledge of social rules and standards. Emotional development includes the experience of feelings about self and others, with a range of positive and negative emotions, as well as the ability to control and regulate feelings in culturally appropriate ways. The development of self-worth, self-confidence and self-regulation are important features of social-emotional development. Healthy social-emotional development is essential for success in school and in life.
Loving, nurturing relationships enhance emotional development and mental health. When infants and toddlers are treated with kindness and encouragement, they develop a sense of safety and emotional security. A nurturing caring relationship provides a "secure base" from which children can begin exploring the world, frequently checking back for reassurance. They more they explore and try new things, the more success they experience. They feel good about themselves. Kind, nurturing relationships also teach children how to treat others. Children watch adults and copy them. Good relationships help children feel valued. Children who feel loved and cherished grow up to be adults who care about others.
Children may respond to the lack of a healthy relationship in a variety of ways.
Infants and Toddlers
If these behaviors and considerations lead to concern, you might: