National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is May 10, providing an opportunity to discuss mental health in infants.
The words "infant" and "mental health" aren't typically paired together, but with 90% of the brain developed by age 5, it's important for parents and caregivers to learn how to support a child's mental health starting as early as infancy. Infant mental health can influence a child's growth and development and can have a lasting impact into adulthood.
What is infant mental health and why is it important?
Infant mental health refers to how well children develop socially and emotionally from birth to age three. To be more specific, it is their ability to express and manage their emotions as they learn, as well as their ability to form strong attachments. Infants are constantly learning and their daily interactions with parents and other caregivers are critical. When we properly support an infant's mental health, we provide the tools and skills necessary for him or her to emotionally connect with others, build trust, and develop empathy.
What does good infant mental health look like?
A four-month old with good mental health easily soothes and settles into your arms when you pick them up while crying. A nine-month old will begin to cry each morning when dropped off at school. Both of these are indications that your infant knows and understands that he or she is loved. As a parent or caregiver, you are meeting his or her needs.
What can parents and providers do to help support a child's infant mental health?
A crying infant needs to be held. Excessive crying can introduce anxiety early-on and can produce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It's important for parents and caregivers to create the habit of "being" with infants and understand that this supports a child's mental health. When you hear your infant crying, pick him or her up and rock, sing, or lay the baby on your chest. These habits help reduce anxiety in infants, reinforces the connection between child and caregiver, and demonstrates your love.
Want to learn more?
Follow us on Facebook, we always have great resources and information to support parents, caregivers, and educators. You can learn more about Infant Mental Health with the resources listed below: