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Infants’ and Toddlers’ Mental Health Matters, And It Begins With Yours

March 8, 2023

EdSurge recently reported on the negative impact of the past few years on toddlers’ and infants’ mental health. I agree wholeheartedly that much has been reported on older groups of children and teens, but there hasn't been as much focus on very young children – including infants and preschoolers. 

As Meghan Schmelzer, senior manager of infant and early childhood mental health at the nonprofit Zero to Three was quoted in the article, “We like to say that the social-emotional health [and] mental health of little ones is all our jobs — anyone who touches the life of a child — because of the fact that brain development is so rapid in the prenatal-to-3 space of life. We can see the huge consequences when things don’t go right in the first three years of life.”

How Can You Tell There Might Be Mental Health Concerns With Infants or Toddlers?

mental health warning signs in young children

The article goes on to explore mental health issues through exhibited behaviors, such as: not forming attachments, refusing touch, refusing food, acting out, crying inconsolably, and regressing with potty training.

Correctly, the article shifts its focus to caregivers, as caregivers are the ones who model and guide children through their emotional experiences.

Given children are born ready to learn and optimal learning happens within the context of responsive relationships, at Housman Institute, we focus on supporting the caregiver in addressing their own emotionality so they can best support, model and guide the child from birth to identify, understand and manage their emotions and those of others. Also, there’s the old oxygen mask rule — a parent or educator must first address and manage their own emotions before they’re able to do so with a child.

The brain is developing at record speed during the first few years of life with one million new neural connections forming every second. Positive emotional learning experiences strengthen the neurological connections within the prefrontal cortex–the brain’s epicenter of executive function. There is a direct link between emotions and learning. Strong emotional skills build strong cognitive skills. 

Executive function or cognition is strengthened through positive emotional learning experiences.

Housman Institute promotes educating teachers, parents and caregivers about how important emotional intelligence is to learning and that it must be prioritized above all other learning – an emotionally dysregulated child cannot learn.

Equally important is parents’ and caregivers’ mental health. The past few years have increased everyone’s stress and anxiety levels–with many grieving the loss of a loved one, and children are constantly observing and absorbing these emotions. 

Caregivers and parents should first recognize the important role they play in children’s lives and recognize that a child’s mental health begins with their own mental health. So take a minute for some deep breathing, talk therapy, a walk, or whatever it is that you may need to present the healthiest version of yourself to your children. 

And remember – no one is perfect. We all have good days and bad days, so cut yourself some slack! As long as you’re actively aware and trying to manage your own emotions for yourself and for your children, everyone can lead emotionally healthier lives.

Keeping Your Students’ and Your Mental Health Strong in Stressful Times

Keeping Your Students’ and Your Mental Health Strong in Stressful Times

“As educators — before you can help children deal with their stress you must learn how to cope with your own stress and the feelings that accompany stress.” - Dr. Donna Housman

Teacher Stress

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