One of the most exciting aspects of this field is that it reinforces the important roles of families and communities in the development of young children. Adults and others in young children’s lives have many opportunities to positively influence the healthy growth and development.

As new research comes forward, we learn more ways that we can make a difference and help children to be as healthy as possible. This is one area that we can truly prevent problems from occurring while promoting growth and health.

Resilience

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to cope with and recover from stressful situations, changes or problems. Being resilient does not mean that a child will not feel stress, distress, sadness, and other emotions. It means that the child will use coping skills, support systems and self esteem that they developed in past situations to cope better with their current situation. It also means that the child will learn from the current situation and grow. Resiliency is always growing, developing and changing.

The language of resilience is I CAN, I AM, I HAVE. For example, for a two year old this might translate to: I AM loveable, I AM safe, I CAN get comfort and support, I CAN tell mommy I am sad, I HAVE people who love me, and I HAVE a safe haven.

Why is resilience important?

Life is not stress free. It is guaranteed that each of us will experience stress, transitions, change and problems throughout our life. How we deal with these is based in part on how we have dealt with past situations. When we are young, one of our caregivers’ roles is to help us cope with and protect us from the negative effects of stress and harm. It is in this protected environment that we are best able to learn how to cope with stress on our own.

What do protective and risk factors mean?

There are many factors during childhood that can protect us or put us at further risk of harm. Just one factor is usually not enough to protect or harm. The balance of these factors is what is important. An example of a protective factor would be the development of a secure attachment with a caregiver. A risk factor would be the death of a loved one. When we help children to develop resilience, we are trying to increase the protective factors in their lives, and either decrease or buffer the impact of the risk factors.

Family

What can Family Members do to Support Early Childhood Mental Health?

  • Provide unconditional love.
  • Provide a stable, safe and consistent environment.
  • Express love safely, both physically and verbally.
  • Enforce rules in a calm, kind way starting with children aged two and three.
  • Do not belittle, harm, or reject a child when you discipline.
  • Learn about early childhood development, including:
    • Small children use behaviors such as crying, reaching out towards parents and clinging to communicate their need to be physically close to their parents. They develop self-esteem and confidence when their parent responds.
    • Young children have a strong desire to please their parents.
    • Separation anxiety is an expression of love and fear of loss and not manipulative.
    • Young children fear losing their parents love and approval.
    • Young children imitate their parents because they want to be like them.
    • Children blame themselves when their parents are angry or upset (cognitive egocentrism).
    • Young children believe that their parents are always right, know everything and can do everything (they also believe that they are omnipotent).
    • Children feel loved and protected when parents are confident about parenting and enforce rules.
    • Toddlers and preschoolers use the word “no” to develop autonomy, not to be bad.
    • Babies and young children have memory and do remember, most often in the form of intense emotion.
    • Small children feel intensely but do not yet know how to regulate these emotions.
    • Conflicts between parents and children are inevitable and can be constructive.
    • Learn behaviors that will promote secure attachment.
    • Provide safe touch through cuddling, hugging, holding, feeding, and rocking.
    • Respond to children’s needs in a consistent and sensitive manner.
    • Create routines for day to day activities.
    • Provide a safe haven from which children can leave to explore and then come back to.
    • Follow children’s cues regarding when to stimulate and when to rest.
    • Encouraging children to play.
    • Providing opportunities for rhythmic listening and movement through music and movement.
  • Model behavior that communicates confidence, self-esteem, courage and optimism.
  • Praise children for accomplishments being specific about what you are praising and why.
  • Encourage safe exploration and independence.
  • Acknowledge and label young children’s feelings.
  • Encourage children to recognize and express his or her own feelings and to recognize some feelings in other.
  • Give children comfort and encouragement in stressful situations.
  • Use holding, rocking, and a soothing voice to calm children.
  • Encourage children to learn self-soothing techniques.
  • Encourage children to use problem-solving skills and decision making skills.
  • Help children begin to accept responsibility for his or her own behavior and to understand consequences.
  • Allow children to develop close, safe relationships with other adults and children in their community.
  • Encourage and model flexibility.

Community

What can Communities do to Support Early Childhood Mental Health?

  • Accept children and families into already established communities.
  • Show respect for and foster positive attitudes towards members of both genders within a community
  • Promote safe, equal access to recreation and other services in your geographical communities.
  • Encourage children and families to get involved with activities outside of the family.
  • Befriend and act as a safe mentor to young people in your community.
  • Praise children and make them feel valuable.
  • Offer all parents skill and confidence building information and programs.
  • Provide opportunities for daily physical activity for children, even young children.
  • Support media that show healthy images and messages about children and families.
  • Provide information to communities and families about stress and trauma in young children, including:
    • Information about the need for environmental stability.
    • Information about what is trauma and stress.
    • Information about biological reactions to trauma and stress
    • Information to increase community and caregivers ability to warmly, empathetically respond to children (Wilson, 2004)
  • Increase the communities understanding of attachment and support of parents fostering attachment. Teach them about the caregiver behaviours that contribute to secure attachment relationships.
    • Sensitive responding
    • Comforting
    • Repair
    • Reciprocity
    • Supportive play
    • Protect/take charge
    • Loving care
    • Closeness
  • Provide practical support to families within the community, including:
    • Providing respite care to help reduce stress, isolation, depression and other mental health problems.
    • Recognizing, speak out about, and help end abuse and domestic violence.
    • Improving social support for caregivers.
    • Increasing caregivers’ self-esteem.
    • Improving health of parent and child
  • Decrease violence in communities by:
    • Talking about family violence.
    • Supporting those who are being victimized
    • Teaching children and youth about the equalities between genders, not the differences
    • Teaching children and youth about healthy relationships
    • Providing safe people for children to speak to

Professional

What can Professionals do to Support Early Childhood Mental Health?

As a service provider, many of the above suggestions apply to you in your practice. In addition, you can:

  • Provide a non-judgmental space for service users.
  • Encourage families to reach out for social support.
  • Encourage children to build on their strengths.
  • Advocate for changes that will create equal opportunities for your clients, e.g., adequate supports, and social assistance rates.
  • Advocate for early childhood mental health to become part of strategic plans in mental health organizations.
  • Advocate for funding and staffing resources to be allocated specifically towards infant and early childhood mental health.
  • Advocate for system change in education, early childhood education and mental health in recognizing the value of early childhood mental health.
  • Advocate for policy and system change that will create equal access to information, medical and social services for all caregivers.
  • Advocating for the creation of quality day care that promotes infant mental health.
  • Advocate for free and affordable access to recreational services.
  • Advocate for universal maternal depression screening and support.
  • Advocate for Information and support for families where parents have mental illnesses.
  • Receive training to work with children who have been traumatized.
  • Invest in the space and equipment that will be most appropriate for use with young children.