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.

Where to Start

Reaching Milestones

From birth to age 5 your child is not only growing in size, but also your child is learning, playing, moving, speaking and interacting with others. As a parent/caregiver you take your child to the doctor (pediatrician) to make sure your child is growing and gaining weight. Parents and caregivers also need to track their child’s milestones in how he/she learns plays, speaks, and acts. These milestones can help a parent or caregiver find any problems or concerns in their child’s development at an early age. Many groups publish a list of milestones for you to use such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Developmental Milestones charts and the Zero to Three Organization’s Age-based handouts.

As a parent/caregiver, you know your child best. If your child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or if you think there could be a problem with their development, tell your child ‘s doctor as soon as you can. You do not need to worry alone. If you live in Connecticut, you can call Connecticut ‘s 2-1-1 Child Development Infoline at 800-505-7000 or just dial 211. Care coordinators at the Infoline can help parents/caregivers with questions about their child ‘s development, behavior management ideas and programs, make referrals to services, and give advocacy and follow-up as needed. In Connecticut, there is also a resource called The Ages & Stages Child Monitoring Program which helps parents and caregivers learn about their child ‘s development and identify potential delays as early as possible.

Infant/Early Childhood Temperament and Mental Health

As your child grows it is important to learn about your child’s temperament or your child’s unique way of experiencing and looking at the world. Children are all different and their temperament will control how they behave and react to different situations. What is important for good mental health is the “goodness of fit” between caregiver and child. Some issues that parents and caregivers may have with their child include: inconsolable crying, extreme shyness, feeding issues, aggressive behavior, defiant behavior as well as sleep challenges. Parents will want to make the way they react match their children’s temperament such as being patient and kind for the shy child or acting calm and quietly firm to redirect the active child. As a parent or caregiver you can learn ways to deal with your child’s needs and challenges. There are excellent resources available in the Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Services and Supports section as well as in our Resource Library to help you develop strategies to deal with your child’s behavior. It is also good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician about your child’s needs. The Zero to Three website has a section on Challenging Behavior Tips and Tools and the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation has an excellent tool, called  The Infant Toddler Temperament Tool. This tool allows parents and caregivers to learn about their child’s temperament and it also gives best practice tips adults can use to work with their child’s unique temperament.

High-Risk Children and Mental Health

In most cases very young children’s lives are filled with happiness, love, learning and fun. However, for some that is not the case. Rates of child maltreatment are highest for the youngest children, with children most at risk in the early weeks and months of life (Zero to Three). Stress on young children is known to badly affect brain development, and impacts learning, behavior, as well as physical and mental health. Children who are at a high-risk for high stress and thus may develop future learning/ behavior problems include children who are a victim of a traumatic event that go unresolved. Examples of these high-risk children are children who are abused or neglected, live in foster care, exposed to domestic violence, are homeless or have been exposed to drugs or alcohol during their mother’s pregnancy. Early intervention for young children who are at high-risk for experiencing high-stress can put a stop to future problems if care is given to them as soon as possible. For example, if a baby or toddler is put into foster care, that child should be getting some type of “early intervention” as well as the right therapy.

Other examples of “potentially traumatic events” for young children are:

  • Physical abuse and maltreatment
  • Sexual abuse
  • Family, school, or community violence
  • Death of a loved one, especially a parent or caregiver
  • Witnessing Domestic violence
  • Medical trauma
  • Separation from a parent or caregiver
  • Traumatic loss
  • Accidents/fires
  • Natural Disasters
  • War/terrorism

Even though babies and toddlers may not understand the meaning of what they see or hear, they take in the images that are around them and are deeply impacted by the emotions of the people that take care of them. Parents and caregivers play a key part in helping their child cope and respond to traumatic events. When parents are grieving or experiencing their own traumatic stress it can be difficult for them to provide the adequate attention needed by their children. In these instances, it is important for parents to seek support for themselves or reach out to others who can give support to their children. Spending quality time with your baby and toddler, loving and supporting them during difficult times is a great start in the healing process. The good news is that there is treatment for traumatic stress for all ages of children. Please see the Trauma section in this website, and click on the tab called, “Effective Treatments for Child Traumatic Stress“.