Child Trends 5 issues a series of monthly e-newsletters summarizing current research about children and youth. The October 2015 newsletter, Child Trends: Five Things to Know about Mental Wellness in Early Childhood is brief, but packed with lots of links to solid research. The authors highlighted facts about the mental wellness of infants and toddlers, birth to 3 years old. Because parents and other significant caregivers are responsible for the early environments that young children experience, this newsletter focuses on what parents/caregivers need to understand and how they can promote children’s mental wellness during the first 3 years of life.
Here’s a quick preview of the main points:
1. Infants experience and perceive a range of emotions.
2. Early positive interactions promote emotional wellness throughout the lifespan.
3. Having appropriate expectations of young children's development is important.
4. Parents and caregivers should be mindful of their own emotional well-being, seeking support if they need it.
5. Young children are resilient and, if properly supported, can overcome potentially traumatic events.
This Child Trends 5 e-newsletter on early childhood mental wellness also offers links to further information and valuable resources, Two of my favorites are the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation at Georgetown University. If you search these websites, you’ll find videos, articles, games and tools for yourself, your colleagues, and for families to learn about what children need for healthy social-emotional development.
Throughout the newsletter, you’ll notice the central role parents and caregivers play in promoting the emotional well-being of young children. Like using an oxygen mask on an airplane, parents need to take care of themselves so they can support their children. No matter what genetics children may inherit, or what temperament they may express, or what trauma they may experience, if infants and toddlers engage in predictable, consistent and sensitive interactions early in life with their parents (or others in a parenting capacity), they will be more likely to cope and be resilient in the face of adversity.
“Infants understand themselves and their surroundings through their interactions with caregivers. A caregiver who consistently engages with an infant (or re-engages after a break) in a responsive, comforting, and supportive way provides a base from which that infant can develop a sense of predictability about the external world, giving them confidence to explore surroundings and develop independence.”
In other words, sensitive early parent-child relationships are associated with young children’s secure attachment and resilience. If you want to support parents in building nurturing relationships with their children to promote social-emotional wellness, consider the KIPS observational parenting assessment. It will help you identify each family’s parenting strengths and areas for improvement in order to open a conversation about parenting that leads to specific goal setting for your work together.