When many people think of children, they think of happiness. We view the youngest years as a whimsical time marked by lightheadedness and wonder. But experts in infant and early childhood mental health say that children from birth to age 3 are capable of many deep and intense emotions, including sadness, grief, and anger, and, like their caregivers, mental health. are susceptible to challenges.
A senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, Dr. Jamie Howard said, “We shouldn’t think of children as being impervious to major tensions in the family.” “The diagnostic criteria for something like early childhood depressive disorder are going to be based more on behavior and observable features, because young children can’t tell us, ‘Yeah, I’m having a sense of worthlessness.’ They don’t have any metacognition, which is the ability to think about their ideas. So it’s very practical.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health disorders in children can change the way they learn, behave, and cope with emotions and can make it difficult for them to carry out their day. Research shows that preschoolers and even children can experience depression and anxiety.
Children are resilient, especially when they have a supportive caregiver. But it is also true that the early years are a critical time for development, and a young child’s emotional well-being can affect their health later in life.
Early emotional experiences become embedded in the structure of children’s brains. That’s why experts say it’s critical caregivers recognize that just as adults need their mental health, so do children.
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Jennifer Boss, director of infant and early childhood mental health coordination and strategy at Zero to Three, said, “Studies show that approximately 9.5 to 14% of children from birth to age 5 may have emotional challenges that may be present in children. mental health disorders.” . “The parents are usually the first to recognize that something seems wrong. They are the ones who notice that distress.”
Experts say parents should be sensitive to their children’s feelings, but they also caution against excessive worry.
“There’s a lot of brain growth and development going on, so we want to make sure we meet the needs of young children. That said, you don’t have to be perfect. Stress happens. I don’t want mothers -Father be filled with guilt. And anxiety,” Howard said. “If you’re hugging your baby and feeding them and getting them to sleep and regularizing them, you’re doing a great job.”
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What signs should parents pay attention to
To assess a child’s mental health, Howard advises parents to monitor milestones (the CDC has a comprehensive guide) and behavior.
Babies must grow physically and connect emotionally. As they get older, Howard said there are four major categories of developmental milestones to look for: expressive language (developing words), receptive language (understanding what a person is saying), gross motor (sitting up). ), and fine motor (lifting something) If you’re wondering whether your child is meeting milestones and online resources aren’t enough, contact your pediatrician.
The most important thing caregivers should see is a change in behavior, say experts. Caregivers know their children closely. They know what they like to eat, how their baby sleeps, what sounds their babies make, their different cries and what they mean.
“Parents know a lot, and when something doesn’t feel right, they can feel safe relying on themselves to recognize that,” Boss said.
When a child is born physically or is developmentally compromised, it can be even more difficult for parents to read the signs and understand their child’s behavior. Experts say it’s even more important to have regular checkups with a health care provider in these cases.
If your child needs help
If you’re concerned about your baby, experts say the best thing you can do is talk to your pediatrician. They may recommend a specialist — such as a child psychologist — to perform a more thorough evaluation.
If you recognize that your child is struggling, there are steps you can take at home to provide extra nutrition.
Howard said, “Hug, sit close, read books together, play, pet a dog.” “You want to notice what your child needs and give them. Because that’s attachment. Some kids are easygoing and some kids aren’t, but somehow the onus is on the parent to continually meet the child’s needs.” And they often need more during times of stress.”
Why is it important to take care of you too
Babies are largely present in their relationship with their primary caregiver. That relationship is vital to healthy growth and development.
Howard said that especially from 0 to 3 months, the most important person to monitor is not the baby, but the mother. Many experts note that the stress of a parent can overwhelm their child at any age.
“It is very common for a mother to have postpartum anxiety and depression. And if she is not equipped to respond to the needs of the baby consistently, that is the biggest risk factor,” Howard said. “If a child has a healthy caregiver who is doing their best, they can do a lot.”
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3:51 PM UTC June 3, 2021
4:44 PM UTC June 4, 2021