Infant and Early Childhood

All young children experience behaviors from time to time as they grow and develop that are challenging to adult caregivers. Many of these behaviors go away without turning into more serious behavioral concerns with the right kinds of strategies and attention from parents and other caregivers. 

For some children their behavior is more intense, occurs more frequently, and interferes with their ability to learn and form positive relationships with peers and significant adults. These children may have conditions considered as mental health conditions or social and emotional disturbance. 

Another group of young children may be living with circumstances that can be considered environmental risks. Risk factors may have negative consequences on the child’s growth and development including social/emotional development and cognitive development. Risk factors include poverty, parental substance abuse, violence, maternal age, homelessness, parental mental health issues, child abuse or neglect, or out-of-home placement. 

Infant mental health is defined as the healthy social and emotional development of a child from birth to 3 years of age. The core of infant or early childhood mental health is a secure emotional bond between a parent and child. Good mental health allows children to think clearly, develop socially, and learn new skills. 

A growing field of research and practice related to infant mental health is devoted to the promotion of healthy social and emotional development, the prevention of mental health problems, and the treatment of the mental health problems of very young children in the context of their families. When a primary caregiver is depressed, for example, or is dealing with other issues like a sibling with disabilities, homelessness, or addiction, she may not be able to interact much with her newborn. If a child has a disability that makes him difficult to hold, if he can’t smile, or he cries all the time, this can also make bonding difficult. Providing the parent or caregiver with support and understanding allows them to give these same cornerstones to quality mental health to their infant. 

Source: The National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center and Zero to Three