Early Childhood and Mental Health Discussion Draws Large Crowd

Early childhood and mental health? This past Wednesday (August 3) a crowd of over 150  passionate early childhood advocates were ready to learn from Dr. Joan Luby of Washington University School of Medicine and our very own Steve Zwolak. Shelley Williams, Director of American Graduate Initiative at the Nine Network, served as the moderator for the event and began with the question, “What drove you to early childhood mental health?” Dr. Luby found treating infant children more gratifying while in her doctoral fellowship and Steve stumbled upon early childhood education as a young man beginning his career. Working with children gave him the fulfillment he was looking for. 

The evening progressed with Dr. Luby and Steve delving deep into how early childhood mental health plays a role in what they see every day working with children. “Seventy-five to 80% of children are in care outside of the home for 40 or more hours per week; this means early childhood educators must be properly equipped,” Steve said. While early childhood educators play a crucial role in the lives of little ones, what’s most important to the mental development of children are the parents. “The parent is the other half of the young child's psyche. We must invest in the parent-child relationship,” Dr. Luby expressed. 

As the conversation was continuing, a topic arose that is becoming an increasingly bigger problem for early childhood age children - the media. Both Steve and Dr. Luby agree, the media can be a detriment to the development of children. “It’s definitely influencing them. They don’t have the capacity to understand what they are taking in.” 

After the formal panel discussion, the audience was invited to ask Dr. Luby and Steve questions. One of the questions asked was “Are young children actually being diagnosed with depression?” The short answer was, yes. “Children can be diagnosed with depression as young as the age of three,” Dr. Luby explained. 

At the end of the question and answer period, Shelly asked Dr. Luby and Steve for final action steps any early childhood educator could take. Dr. Luby recommended “Look at the kids you are working with and design your program to deal with their emotions.” Steve suggested, “Be with children differently. Open up your soul and let them in.”