Child care providers spend a lot of time with young children, and these relationships early in a child’s life are incredibly impactful. It’s important to consider infant and early childhood mental health during the time spent with infants and young children. Infant mental health refers to the social and emotional development of children under the age of five.

The management of one’s mental health and wellbeing is something that should start from birth. Mental health affects how one thinks, acts, and feels about oneself and others, and that’s especially true in infants and young children who are learning emotions and may be unable to express a suffering wellbeing. When daily interactions with caregivers “are consistently warm and responsive, babies and toddlers develop a sense of safety and confidence and a positive view of themselves,” according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. When their emotional needs are met, children are free to pursue development in learning and exploring the world around them.

Some signs that a child is suffering in their mental health is being distracted, acting less engaged, or being less responsive than usual. Once an issue has been noticed and addressed, young children are eager to reconnect. It’s important to remember to take notice of infant and toddler wellbeing, because the longer the separation between them and a responsive caregiver persists, the bigger impact it will have on the young child’s mental health.

In order to help the children in their care, child care providers should hone their skills to identify emotions and behaviors in infants and toddlers. The Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health is a statewide organization dedicated to the promotion of social-emotional learning and relationship-based practices.

Read more about supporting the mental health and development of young children on our blog, learn about social-emotional trainings offered by 4-C, or read more about the ASQ developmental screening.