People are often surprised by the concept of Infant Mental Health.
There is a common misperception that young children will not remember their experiences. Many people feel that young children who suffer a traumatic experience are far better off than older children, because they are too young to remember. It is easy to understand this misperception.
Most of us experience memories as language, a story. Very young children have limited language and thus have limited ability to create a story of their memories. We know, from research, that young children experience the world through their senses. We also know that our brains store sensory memories, and these memories affect children’s health, mental health, and overall well-being.
Even a one-year-old can be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and this child may never have a story to make sense of those memories.
Zero To Three defines Infant Mental Health as,
The capacity of the child from birth to age five to:(Zero to Three Policy Center Fact Sheet, May 18, 2004)
• Experience, regulate and express emotions
• Form close and secure interpersonal relationships
• Explore the environment and learn all in the context of family, community and culture.
A young child’s experiences create a foundation for the rest of life.
Like the building of a house, if the foundation is built to be strong and sturdy, the house is prepared to weather future stress and storms. This is the same for a person’s social emotional well-being – our mental health.
When the foundation is strong, we are prepared to weather the storms that life brings. But, when a young child is exposed to traumatic experiences, without the buffering support of nurturing relationships, the foundation can be fragile.
For far too long, too little attention has been placed on the importance of social-emotional development. This means that many children are facing the storms that life brings without a strong foundation leaving them vulnerable, fragile and unable to manage.
NYS-AIMH’s mission is to strengthen and promote social and emotional well-being for all children, birth through six years of age in New York State.
This is relationship-focused work that seeks to understand the emotional experience of the child while remaining curious and attuned to the parent/caregiver and works to strengthen the relationship between them.
If you work with, or on behalf of young children and their families, it is important that you are part of this effort! Because babies, toddlers and preschool-age children need you and other professionals to have the education, specialty training, work experience, and reflective opportunities that demonstrate your ability to meet their social-emotional and general development needs.
We invite you to work with us to build strong foundations for this generation and for generations to come!