I attended the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Connecticut state conference last week. I took workshops on infant mental health and geriatric mental health.
What is infant and early childhood mental health?
It’s all about creating a secure foundation for children to have positive relationships, self-confidence, and the ability to meet change and challenges successfully. Healthy social and emotional development is necessary for success in school and life, said the Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health CT-AIMH in their brochure.
At-risk infants show signs such as difficult to soothe, limited interest in things of people, consistent strong reactions to touch, sounds or movement, always fearful, reacts strongly for no reason, evidence of abuse or neglect. Toddlers may display little emotion, be unable to calm self, limited interest in things or people, does not turn to adults for comfort, and has inconsistent sleep patterns.
Children exposed to early trauma often show these signs and this can take a toll on their ability to manage emotions and impulses later in life. If a pregnant woman is stressed during pregnancy, often when the baby is born they will carry those stressors. Ongoing stressors can impact a mother’s ability to care for and interact with her baby. It is important a new mom take care of her own mental health first and also practice self care techniques.
“Brain architecture is being defined during infancy and toddlerhood—with 700 synaptic connections forming per second,” said CT-AIMH spokesperson Heidi Maderia. “Since brains develop in the context to relationships, it is important early caregivers are responsive, warm and predictable.”
Consistency and making eye-contact with the infant are two practices the CT-AIMH recommends to caregivers or parents. Read to the baby, play and talk with them, mimic their sounds are good ways of forging a connection.
Help for parents and children is available by calling the Child Development Infoline at 1-800-505-7000 and also online by clicking www.ct-aimh.org, www.birth23.org. Check out these web sites for early childhood mental health information: