What is Infant Mental Health?

What is Infant Mental Health?

It is common for people to think about therapy and mental health support for adults and older children. But did you know that young children can also benefit from mental health services? Typically, Infant Mental Health, or IMH, is related to children 0-5 years old and may also include prenatal services to support the pregnant parent before the child is born. Because young children need adults to keep them safe and support their development, IMH typically engages parents and caregivers alongside the child. This collaborative approach creates opportunities to support social and emotional developmental needs together. Therapy with young children is typically very play-based and the therapist may coach parents and encourage ways to play and work with the child to support positive mental health. The therapist may also meet with the parents individually to reflect on the unique challenges of raising young children while supporting their abilities to manage their stress.

Infant Mental Health

Infancy is a time of developing attachments and building bonds with loved ones. This sets the foundation for later social relationships, healthier reactions to stressors, and healthy ways to express emotions. Parents and caregivers may struggle with meeting the physical needs of newborn infants while also responding emotionally to this new role. It is common for parents to re-examine their childhoods and relationships with their own parents as they consider who they want to be as a parent. Parents can make conscious decisions of how they want to build relationships and support their baby’s emotional and social needs by reflecting with a therapist.

Toddler Mental Health

Toddlerhood is an exciting time of burgeoning skills and abilities as children explore their worlds, look to their caregivers for support, and learn to manage feelings that can be overwhelming. Parents can face the challenge of a toddler who says “No!” to everything, their boundless curiosity, and their need to cling to their parent when feeling emotional. Play-based therapy allows toddlers opportunities to manage big feelings, to practice social skills like turn-taking, and to explore new ideas. For parents, this means a chance to observe their toddler’s development, to consider the meanings of their behaviors, and to develop ways to react while remaining calm and regulated.

Preschoolers and Early Childhood Mental Health

The preschool years are often a time of independence, developing more relationships with peers and educators, and learning about more nuanced feelings like disappointment and fear. Preschoolers usually like predictable routines, clear rules, and a sense that they have some control over their lives through knowing what is right and wrong. As their bodies become more coordinated, preschoolers are learning ways to feed themselves, dress, care for their bodies, and use their hands to write and manipulate small objects. Because of their focus on peers, preschoolers may compare themselves to others, notice differences between gender or developmental needs, and are often competitive. However, because preschoolers also enjoy being with peers, they can usually be coached to engage in collaborative activities that support their social skills, ability to share with others and regulate their emotions to build their friendships. Therapy can offer preschoolers opportunities to manage their feelings appropriately, to practice allowing others to lead an activity, to use creative play to express their emotions and desires and to reinforce the roles of their parents and caregivers with managing limits and expectations. If your child is having explosive tantrums, is struggling to connect with peers, or is overly emotional or not showing any emotions, therapy can be a supportive resource for you and your child.

Develop Positive Social and Emotional Skills with Children’s Mental Health Therapist

The early years are exciting as children grow so quickly, learn so many things, and develop such important relationships with their families and friends. Young children are developing rapidly which offers an opportunity for the adults in their lives to support their social and emotional skills and prevent longer-term or negative behaviors. Working with a therapist, parents can learn different ways to help their child develop positive social and emotional skills while also reinforcing positive mental health. These skills will support children throughout their lives, prevent bigger problems, and support them to have healthy adulthoods.

For more information:

What is Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health? | Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health (mi-aimh.org)

Infant Mental Health Guiding Principles – lllinois Association for Infant Mental Health (ilaimh.org)

Infants have mental health needs, too – Mayo Clinic Health System

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health • ZERO TO THREE

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