Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health

Children who have both physical and mental well-being succeed and soar.

That’s why it’s so important to properly assess a child’s potentially challenging behavior or improper development. Research shows that a child’s inner life is organized within and around their primary relationships. Children watch the behaviors of their parents and caregivers and their behavior adapts to the family culture and the larger community.

In 2016 the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) formed the National Center on Excellence for Infant Mental Health. When young children go to child care or preschool they should be in a nurturing and stimulating environment where they can play, learn and have fun. That’s why SAMHSA, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) have partnered to establish a National Center of Excellence for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

Part of this initiative is the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, an evidence-based approach requiring a partnership between a mental health provider and parent or other caregiver.  This approach relies on building the caregiver’s skills and knowledge to expand opportunities for children to thrive.


Early Childhood Influences

From infancy through early childhood mental health can be defined as the capacity to grow well and love well. Healthy development is built on the foundation of parental protection, which gives children the internal security and external safety they need.


The positive development of a child’s mental health and sense of well-being reflects three capacities:


1. Experience, tolerate and express a range of emotions without lasting emotional collapse.

2. Form and maintain mostly trusting intimate relationships.

3. Learn the culturally expected skills considered appropriate for the child’s age.


Warning Signs for New Mothers

A number of factors may influence parent and newborn well-being, including the lack of proper nutrition, labor and delivery, and various Perinatal Mood Disorders.


Factors may include:

  • Depression or anxiety during pregnancy
  • Past depression/mood disorder
  • Family history of depression
  • Complications in pregnancy, birth, or breast feeding
  • Relational and/or financial stress
  • Inadequate social support in caring for the baby
  • Physical conditions such as Thyroid disorder or PMDD (PMS)
  • Physical health problems in the mother or infant


Symptoms reported can be:

  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxious, worried
  • Feeling constantly tired
  • Awake with thoughts running through head
  • Crying often
  • Not enjoying being a mother
  • Feeling disconnected from their baby
  • Feeling like a bad or inadequate mother
  • Anger or extreme irritability toward others


A Strong Foundation Built Upon Relationships

It is within the relationships with primary caregivers (parents, grandparents, child care providers, foster parents) that infants and young children develop to their maximum potential. Identifying and addressing challenges as early as possible is critical.


For more information about child mental health or to seek a referral, contact SOAR here.