Mental health in Children’s Health

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When we talk about mental health in children, from two-week-old babies to two-month-old infants or even 3-year-old toddlers, we refer to their emotions, feelings, and social abilities.

Infants making great strides in social-emotional health can express their emotions and feelings through smiling, babbling, cooing, gesturing, and giving appropriate hugs. They can also frown, cry, or thrash their arms and legs to show disapproval in their current situation or when they do not receive the attention they desire. Other outward signs that children have good mental, social, and emotional health include paying attention, showing empathy, sharing with others, taking turns to do activities, listening, and being engaged in their surroundings.

Do not take these capabilities for granted. Social and emotional capabilities can be constrained or plentiful depending on the quality of the relationships between infants and their caregivers. But one thing is for sure: children do not automatically grow into these abilities. Instead, caregivers cultivate these capacities, which are based on the quality of relationships between young children and caregivers. Getting along with caregivers is crucial to newborns, infants, and children. In fact, it could make or break them.

Foundation

A child’s social and emotional health is the foundation of many future milestones and accomplishments, such as learning, using words, thinking, and acquiring knowledge.

Caution and Caveat

Nevertheless, other factors outside caregiver-newborn relationships (C-N-R) can derail children’s social-emotional health. For example, genetic issues (ASD, etc.) can constrain these abilities even when children have robust and optimum relationships with their caregivers. Severe early childhood diseases and traumas can also disrupt children’s social-emotional health.

On the other hand, not every infant exposed to minimal C-N-R suffers from social-emotional health challenges. For some reason, some children are more resilient than others. For instance, more resilient children might have an adult who stepped up to make a difference in their life.

Culture

Many parents tend to raise their newborns and infants according to their cultural beliefs. As a result, they mimic what they see older folks with children do, which seems natural to them. But is raising a child based on what comes naturally enough? It might be for some parents and children, but not for others.

Active Parenting Style

To cater to children’s social-emotional needs, caregivers should raise their newborns actively rather than just doing what comes naturally. Remember, a newborn’s brain is in an active growth mode and is full of potential but is also looking for nourishment, such as caregivers’ affection and attention. If caregivers do not provide enough of this attention, the area of the brain that would have served those potentials (emotional strides, social interaction, engagement, language acquisition, confidence, etc.) wilts or disappears.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Speech and Language Impediments

In this article and the accompanying video, I only talk about the preventive aspects of children’s social and emotional health, which should begin the day a baby is born. I have not addressed childhood social-emotional challenges, such as those seen in children with autism spectrum disorder or speech and language impediments. Parents who suspect that their infant might not be meeting developmental targets should inform their child’s pediatrician immediately or contact birth-to-three programs in their state.

Pediatricians, because they see caregivers and their newborns several times within a few months following birth, could champion the message of promoting optimum caregiver-child relationships. By alerting mothers, fathers, and caregivers of the importance of these relationships, pediatricians could play a critical role in addressing future social-emotional health challenges in children.

Tips

Below are five ways caregivers can build optimum quality relationships with their infants beginning at birth.

Caregiver Sensitivity: A sensitive caregiver recognizes an infant’s subtle cues to signal their wants and needs. The caregiver can make a reasonable interpretation of an infant’s signals and respond to them promptly.

Calmness & Regulation: Newborns and infants need help to stay calm and regulated to learn from what is going around them.

Communication: Remember that newborns and infants do not communicate the same way as older children. They communicate through gestures, crying, silence, looking around, stretching their arms and legs, and so forth.

Affect Attunement: Caregivers should identify with and share in the feelings and experiences of their infants and children. Try to imagine what your baby is going through.

Synchrony: Synchrony occurs when caregivers and newborns simultaneously participate in the same activities or behavior. Jack Shonkoff and his team at the Harvard Center for the Developing Child call this synchronicity serve and return, or a bidirectional interaction between baby and caregivers.

Child Neglect

Not providing an infant with the basic social and emotional relationship they need to develop may count as child neglect and a violation of the Federal Child Abuse Prevention Act (CAPTA).

End

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