“Infant mental health” refers to how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to three and can be affected during fetal development. Science has shown that this is a very delicate time for emotional development.
Understanding infant mental health is critical for the prevention and treatment of mental health issues in very young children and their families. Development of healthy social and emotional behaviors is key to early childhood mental health.
Harvard Center for Developing Child: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/
What does this look like in my child? (Symptoms)
They are more aggravated or fussy
They are increasing anxious or restless
They appear withdrawn
Sleep or eating habits may be irregular
Difficulty to calm or soothe
Demonstrate avoidance behaviors
Even if you recognize red flags, it can be difficult to distinguish signs of a problem from normal childhood behavior. It is possible that any child may display some signs and symptoms at some point. Infants and small children lack the vocabulary or developmental ability to explain their concerns.
Stigma can be defined as hurtful attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and even discrimination against people with substance misuse disorders or other mental health issues. Concerns about the stigma associated with mental illness, the use of certain medications, and the challenges related to cost of treatment, scheduling and transportation, may prevent some families/caregivers from seeking assistance for a child who has a suspected mental illness.
Stigma Free WV Resource: https://stigmafreewv.org/
Calming exercises can be a big help for you and child. Here are just a few that might be of interest:
How can I help my child now?
“By learning what your child will be doing at different stages, you will become a better informed parent, able to take pleasure in your child’s growth, yet alert to any possible problems in development. Trust your instincts and feelings as you watch your child grow. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. Your doctor can answer any questions you may have about your child’s growth, and WV Birth to Three is available if you have concerns about your child’s development.” WV school nurses, psychologists, and counselors are trained to assist families when developmental and mental health questions arise.
A loving caring peaceful household where stress is limited is one of the best strategies to help combat mental health issues in young children. Studies have shown that children who have a caring adult who talks with and encourages them and spends relaxing and fun time with them, do better in school and have healthier interaction with their peers and other adults than those who do not.
Every parent needs help and ideas as they work to raise physically and emotionally healthy children who are ready to learn. Contact your local school, family doctor, or pediatrician to learn more about parenting resources, free parenting classes, and parenting support groups in your community.
WV Support: http://www.cedwvu.org/family-to-family-health-information-center/
Routines help create comfort, consistency, and a sense of security for young children. The fear of the unknown can bring on stress, interrupted sleep, health issues, and poor social development. Create routines around bedtime, meals, playtime and starting the day. Routines and structures in the home are also strategies that prepare young children for starting school where they will learn new routines and structures.
A habit of nutritious meals and snacks during pregnancy and through early childhood creates a strong foundation for better mental health.
- Healthy diets include lots of water, vegetables, salads, fruits, fish, and other foods groups known to be healthful.
- “Under-nutrition during pregnancy stunts fetal growth and can lead to poor brain development. “
- “Under-nutrition of a breastfeeding mother can negatively impact a child’s development.”
- “All soon-to-be and new mothers should consume a healthy and balanced diet full of the vital nutrients that both need: carbohydrates, protein, calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and D.”
- Throughout early childhood, continue to introduce new healthy foods
Source: McMartin S, Kuhle S, Kirk S, Veugelers P, Colman I. The association between diet quality and internalizing disorders in children. Am J Epidemiol. 2011;173: S289–S289
Typical Milestones of Child Development can be found here: http://www.wvdhhr.org/birth23/milestones.asp
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just launched the CDC’s Milestone Tracker – a free app for tracking every child’s development in a simple way. The app adds to the free, family-friendly materials which can be accessed through the CDC’s Learn the Signs Act Early program.
What can I do for my child in the long-run?
Early action early can make a difference. As a parent or caregiver, you know your child best. If your child does not appear to be meeting the milestones for his/her age, or if you suspect there could be a problem with the way your child plays, learns, speaks, acts, and moves, you should talk and share your concerns with your child’s doctor.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for general development using standardized, validated tools at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months and for autism at 18 and 24 months or whenever a parent or provider has a concern.” Ask the doctor about a developmental screening for your child.
If either you or your child’s doctor suspect that there may be a delay, ask the doctor to make a referral for your child to a specialist who can do a more in-depth evaluation.
Doctors your child might be referred to include:
- Developmental pediatricians. These doctors have special training in child development and children with special needs.
- Child neurologists. These doctors work on the brain, spine, and nerves.
- Child psychologists or psychiatrists. These doctors know about the human mind.
- WVU Medical Community Health Coordinator – Assistance is available to WV families from the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities Family to Family Health Information Center even if your child has not yet been diagnosed with a mental health issue. Use this link to contact a medical coordinator http://www.f2f.cedwvu.org/make-a-referral-to-an-mchc/
If your child is younger than 3 years old, you may want to reach out to the West Virginia Birth to Three ProgramView Website
Please Note: Links to resources outside the West Virginia Department of Education’s website do not constitute an endorsement by the WVDE. Users should vet linked resources to meet audience needs.