Many people mistakenly believe that infant and toddler mental health is not that important – after all, aren’t children in this age group simply too young for it to be an issue?
In fact, the early years of life are crucial in human development – what happens in the infant and toddler stages, sets the scene for how they develop and grow throughout their lives, both mentally and physically.
What are the Mental Health Needs of Infants?
Infants are totally dependent on their carers to meet their needs, physically, socially and emotionally.
If the child experiences a warm and responsive attachment to their caregiver/s, they will feel safe, protected and loved. This is the optimum environment for their early growth and development; in fact, research has shown that if an infant fails to develop a healthy attachment to their caregiver/s, their brains do not develop fully.
What is Attachment?
Attachment is the name given to the bond which forms between the caregiver/s and infant. Attachment creates a safe foundation from which the toddler can begin to venture out and explore their world – returning to their caregiver for reassurance, for example, when they are in need of comfort, nourishment or nurturing.
During the toddler years, children learn valuable lessons in communication, social cues, expressing and controlling their emotions, resilience, and self image, to name just a few – primarily through their interactions with their primary caregiver/s.
Caring for your Baby’s Mental Health
You can give your child a head start in life, and promote their mental health, with a range of everyday activities which help to strengthen your bond. For example:
- holding your child while feeding, instead of letting them hold the bottle themselves;
- remembering that even your newborn will enjoy eye contact, and stare with fascination at your mouth as you talk;
- talking and singing to them from the day they are born;
- learning what comforts your infant – some like to be rocked, some like to be patted, some have a favourite toy or blanket – so you can soothe them when they are distressed;
- reading to your infant or toddler;
- listening to your child;
- telling your child regularly that you love them;
- creating a safe environment for them to explore, wherever they are;
- guiding them calmly, not harshly; and
- setting limits when necessary.
How a Psychologist can Support Infant Mental Health
One of the best ways that a psychologist can support your infant’s mental health, is to help you as the caregiver/s to look after your own, so that you are in the best position possible to care for your child. According to research by Harvard University, growing up in a home where parental mental health problems are not properly managed, puts your child’s emotional development at risk.
A psychologist can also:
- Support parent-child relationships, through promotion, prevention, intervention, or consultation services;
- Intervene in troubled parent-child relationships; and,
- Work with young children (and their caregivers), with social, emotional, and/or behavioural concerns.
Author: Shokria Siddiqui, BSc.Psych, PGDipPsych, PGDipMH, MPsych, MAPS.
Shokria Siddiqui is a Brisbane Psychologist working with all ages, however she has a particular interest in children and adolescents. By implementing evidence-based therapies that have been scientifically tested, building rapport with her clients, and creating a safe therapeutic space, Shokria helps her clients and their families to better meet life’s challenges.
To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Shokria Siddiqui, try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or or Online Booking – Loganholme, or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on(07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.
- http://developingchild.harvard.edu/index.php/resources/reports_and_working_papers/working_papers/wp8/ (viewed 22.01.18)
- https://www.zerotothree.org/espanol/infant-and-early-childhood-mental-health (viewed 22.01.18)