Mental health is important for adults, but what about children? Last week was infant Mental Health Week, where the goal is to help give infants, young children and their families the best possible start in the important, early years of life. This can be done by improving professional and community understanding that infancy is a critical time for the development of emotional, physical, cognitive, social and mental health. What we fail to sometimes remember is that our mental health is usually a reflection of our development as a child. It is just as important as our physical health growing up. In fact, developing good mental health for a child will help them in life as an adult.
What is infant mental health?
According to AAIMHI, infant mental health refers to many aspects of the child and their surrounding environment. It is the developmental capacity of the infant and young child (from pregnancy to 3 years old) in relation to experiencing, expressing and regulating emotions; forming close and secure relationships; and exploring the environment and learning, all in the context of the caregiving environment that includes family, community, and cultural expectations.
Three reasons why infant mental health is important:
1. Brain Architecture: Toxic environments can damage brain architecture and increase likelihood of significant mental health issues. The effects stressors have on brain development and other organ systems can impair a lifetime of learning and productive participation in society. In contrast, responsive and supportive relationships can act as buffers for young children’s stressor effects. It’s also the base for secure attachment, allowing an infant to explore and learn.
2. Body and Health: Toxic stress can increase a child’s stress hormones into overdrive. When this is constantly reoccurring, these hormones can disrupt brain and physical development. Consequently, reducing the child’s ability to learn. To ensure this doesn’t happen, affection, protection and nurture by a caregiver.
3. Behaviour and Relationships: If a child doesn’t have secure attachments early on in life, they are at risk of being unable to regulate their emotions, get along with others, solve problems or be productive. This is why secure attachment is an important building block for social function. Their caregiver can teach them these important life skills, and consequently, increase their mental health.
Very often here we speak about the importance of infant mental health with our clients. Giving children the best start in life can prepare them for a bright future.
If you feel as though your child needs some support or you would like further guidance then give us a call to make an appointment with one of our team of Psychologists.