Successful early learning and development systems must include a strong and well-financed Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health component. – Zero to Three

When most people think of addressing mental health issues, we often think of disorders that affect older children and adults. However, we cannot ignore the importance of the social and emotional well-being of our youngest children.

According to Zero to Three, “Infant-early childhood mental health, sometimes referred to as social and emotional health, is the developing capacity of the child from birth to 5 years of age to form close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, manage, and express a full range of emotions; and explore the environment and learn – all in the context of family, community, and culture.”

How can we help foster  healthy social and emotional well-being of our children?

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For newborns:

  1. Spend as much time as possible with your baby by wearing her in a sling or carrier, rocking her on your lap, or singing her a song. Your voice and touch can be very comforting.
  2. Try making skin-to-skin contact with your newborn. This practice, called “kangaroo care,” is often used in premature babies, but studies are finding that it’s also calming to babies born full-term.
  3. If a few months have passed and you’re worried that you still haven’t bonded with your baby, talk to your pediatrician. He or she can determine whether a psychological or health issue may be the cause of the problem.

Courtesy of Webmd.com

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For toddlers:

  1. Encourage pals and playmates – A good place to start when helping your children to foster social skills is to encourage them to make friends and to bring them over. A toddler may require you to deliberately organize play dates where he can meet andplay with kids his age.
  2. Keep talking to your child – Proper communication, expression of feelings and thoughts are essential social skills. A family where children are encouraged to talk, express their feelings and to openly air their opinion is likely to bring up confident children and adults. Ensure that your kids feel safe talking to you about anything and more so, about their experiences with their peers. Encourage conversations at dinner time, ask your children how their day was, and tell them stories. Just keep the talk going in the house so your children learn good communication skills. At the same time, be a good listener and encourage them to listen to others.

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For older children:

  1. Teach How to Solve Problems- Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential asserts that teaching social skills entails showing your child how to evaluate other people’s behaviour. Children usually end up in conflicts with their peers and other people because they misunderstood the other person’s behaviour. In teaching your child how to relate with others, encourage her to empathize and look at issues from a different perspective. ‘Why did Erika refuse to play with me?’ Could it be that she was in a bad mood, could it be that she has not forgiven me for shoving her yesterday? Could it be that she just wanted to be alone? It is also important to teach your child to focus less on the problem and more on finding solutions to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
  2. Foster an Environment of Tolerance – To get along well with others, it is important to have a sense of tolerance. Teaching tolerance starts in your home and with you as a role model. Do you make discriminatory remarks about others? Do you use harsh remarks such as “I hate people who…”; do you discourage your children from playing with other children because they are “different” from them? The world, and indeed, local neighbourhoods are cosmopolitan, filled with people from different walks of life. It is important to teach your child how to accept these differences, to look beyond them and to relate courteously with people regardless of their differences.

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For all our children:

From ESNG’s very own Mental Health Manager, Dr. Juanita Brigman, “During the day today, if you can remember, reach out to our little ones and give them a hug. You never know, you just may be healing an emotional pain in their little hearts, or instilling confidence and courage they did not have, or giving them hope for another day, all because you took the time to give them a hug.”

For more information on ESNG’s early childhood mental health program, click here.

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