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Focus on Children’s Mental Well-being | Mental Health Awareness Month

May 1, 2023

Boston, Mass.– May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while people of all ages can experience mental health issues, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the mental well-being of infants and young children. Much has been reported on older groups of children and teens, but there hasn't been as much focus on infants and toddlers. 

Housman Institute Founder, Dr. Donna Housman, urges caregivers and parents to focus on the emotional well-being of infants and young children. 

“The brain’s neuroplasticity is greatest during the first three years of life with one million new neural connections forming every second. Babies’ first language is emotion. The responsiveness of caregivers is paramount to the foundation of babies’ emotional experience in promoting healthy brain development and optimal learning,” said Dr. Donna Housman. “Children are emotional detectives, picking up and absorbing our emotional cues, behaviors, and responses. If you are calm, consistent, and confident, children will feel more secure. However, if you respond with heightened anxiety, children will feel anxious and unsafe.”

Positive emotional 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. 

Babies and young children are born with the propensity for self-regulation; however, they're not born with the ability to emotionally regulate themselves. They learn these skills from their parents and caregivers. Babies and young children are constantly observing and absorbing the emotions and behaviors of those who are caring for them. 

Housman Institute shares that signs to look for that a child may need emotional support include:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Physical complaints, such as stomach and headaches
  • Repeated violent play enactment 
  • Increased tantrums, crying, or fears of the dark, of monsters, or being alone
  • Disturbances in appetite or sleep
  • Difficulty separating from caregivers or excessive clinginess
  • Reverting to earlier behaviors, such as bed-wetting & regression in self-help skills

There are many ways to address infants' and young children’s mental health, including seeking the counsel of a child psychologist. However, one easy and soothing way to address challenging emotions and experiences beginning in infancy is through books.

Children’s storybooks are a powerful visual tool to engage children in discussions about hard topics in age-appropriate ways. Dr. Donna Housman has released three children’s books in her series ECSELent Adventures: Gilly and the Garden, Theo’s Deliciously Different Dumplings, and The Ottersons’ Eruption. Each book discusses different challenging life experiences through the lens of the child and includes a guide at the end to help support adults in discussions, with guiding questions to personalize the experience for the child.

Mental health issues affect people of all ages and backgrounds, and by being proactive and addressing these challenges early, we can help improve the emotional well-being of those around us – including infants and young children.

About Housman Institute

Founded by Dr. Donna Housman, Ed.D, the Housman Institute is an early childhood teacher training, research, and advocacy organization that seeks to provide the building blocks of emotional intelligence for lifelong learning, emotional wellness, and success.

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