What is it?
Early childhood mental health, also called “infant mental health,” refers to the mental health of young children from birth to age five. With the support of their parents and caregivers, young children learn how to express and manage their emotions, form secure attachments, and feel empathy. These are the early stages of social and emotional development. Despite your efforts to support your child’s development and mental health, they may not move through these stages as expected.
Can a young child be diagnosed with a mental illness?
Yes. But it can be difficult to diagnose because young children can’t tell you how they feel or what they think. It’s also important to remember that normal development will look different in different children Changes, like the birth of a new sibling, can cause a lot of stress. This stress may affect the way the child acts, but may not be a mental illness in itself.
A doctor can work to see what else may be causing or adding to the challenges your child may be experiencing. This can take a long time, but it’s important. A diagnosis will help to connect with treatment options and take action early.
How do I know?
Here are some signs that your child may be at risk for mental health challenges:
- problems with sleeping, feeding or eating
- over-responding or under-responding to things around them
- not engaging with people or the environment (for example: avoiding eye contact or not wanting to be held)
- cannot be comforted when upset, or is upset for longer than seems right
- doesn’t make noises very often, like cooing or babbling sounds
- doesn’t use language as expected for their age
- loses skills they once had
What can be done?
Early childhood mental health is about getting help early. If you have concerns about your child’s mental health or development, please seek out support from a health care professional.
In addition, parents and caregivers can support themselves and their child in many different ways:
- learn more about how to support your child’s social and emotional development
- explore education and training options to build on your strengths as a parent or caregiver such as the online parenting programs by the BC Council for Families
- take care of yourself and seek help if you need it. If stress or difficult situations affect your relationship with your child, it's best to talk to a mental health professional about your own health
- seek additional support at home. Talk to your doctor about home visit options from a mental health worker, like a community care nurse, who may help identify challenges early
Many of the factors that contribute to mental health challenges or illnesses are outside of a parent or caregiver’s control. However, parents and caregivers play an important role in supporting their child and promoting positive mental health and well-being.
Where to from here?
If you have questions or concerns about your infant or young child’s mental health, or your relationship with your child, it is recommended that you speak to a health care professional to find out where you can go for more information or help if needed.
Looking for more information on this topic? Connect with a parent peer support worker at the Kelty Centre to discover additional resources, learn more about support and treatment options, or just to find a listening ear.