Mental health is just as important as physical health to a child's well-being.

Mental health is just as important as physical health to a child's well-being.

How can I support the healthy social and emotional development of my young children (prenatal to six years)?

Parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers can best support good mental health very early in development, even before the baby is born. Good prenatal care is very important to how mothers will feel about their babies after birth. Regular doctor appointments, support from family members, reducing stress, and getting rest are good practices that babies will “remember” after birth.

After birth, parents and caregivers will want to pay a lot of attention to their infants, soothing them when they cry, feeding them when they are hungry, changing their diapers when needed and holding them when they are awake and alert. These awake and alert times are when babies will gaze at faces, watch and track high contrast (black and white) pictures. Parents and caregivers should be aware of when babies get tired and are ready to sleep. These are the first steps to letting babies know that parents understand them and will give them what they need. They begin to connect with and to trust those who care for them.

A baby’s big job is to learn to trust someone. When babies cry they are upset about something. Some things you can solve: hunger, wet diaper, or tiredness. Other times they are just uncomfortable and need rocking, holding, soothing. Not giving the infant these things tells the baby that no one understands her or cares for him. Attending to babies’ cries is not spoiling but, in fact, is teaching babies that there is someone they can count on to help them and telling them they are safe. Feeling safe and secure is very important for babies and toddlers. Parents and caregivers need not worry about spoiling their infants during the first 12 months, the job is to respond. A warm and loving relationship will be a protection against the stress and trauma a young child may face later in life.

As young children become mobile and language begins, parents and caregivers will want to offer safe places for them to explore, safe objects they can put in their mouths. Celebrate the new things young children learn (holding a spoon, putting on a coat, listening to a story, putting a toy away) and compliment them whenever possible. Young children love to look at books and read. Read to young children right from birth. Parents and caregivers will want to be ready to comfort and support their toddlers and preschoolers when they explore and find toys that they can’t make work or when they are upset.  Support their interests and willingness to try again. Be the one your young child comes to for help, comfort and encouragement. Give them hugs when they don’t expect it.

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