As parents or carers, we naturally prioritise our children’s physical health and development, ensuring they receive proper nutrition, regular medical check-ups, and ample playtime. However, there’s another crucial aspect of your child’s well-being that often gets left behind. The mental health of your infant. Understanding and taking action towards your young infant’s mental wellbeing in the first few years is an important part of their overall development and long-term well-being.

mental health of your infant

Why the Mental Health of Your Infant Matters in 2024

When I say ‘infant mental health’, I’m referring to the emotional, psychological, and social state of a child from birth to age three. Their mental wellbeing encompasses how they experience, express, and manage emotions, as well as learning to form secure relationships with caregivers. During this critical period at the start of their life, the foundations for emotional regulation, social skills, and cognitive development are established.

  1. Brain Development: The first three years of life are a period of rapid brain growth. Positive experiences and secure attachments significantly influence brain architecture, impacting cognitive, emotional, and social development.
  2. Emotional Regulation: Early experiences shape an infant’s ability to understand and manage emotions. Healthy emotional development in infancy sets the stage for resilience and coping skills later in life.
  3. Social Skills: Infants learn how to interact with others through their relationships with parents and caregivers. These early social interactions are fundamental for developing empathy, cooperation, and other social skills.
  4. Long-Term Well-being: Research shows that early good mental health can predict future mental health outcomes. Infants with strong emotional foundations are less likely to develop mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression later in life.

Practical At Home Tips for Parents & Carers

Supporting the mental health of your infant at home doesn’t require particular training or equipment. Here are some practical ways parents can foster a healthy mental and emotional environment for your child:

1. Establish Secure Attachments

Secure attachment is the emotional bond that develops between an infant and their primary caregiver. It provides the infant with a sense of safety and security, which is crucial for healthy emotional and social development. So respond to your baby’s cues for attention, give them comfort when needed, give sensitive responses to build trust and security. Give them a cuddle and bond with them. Eye contact is also extremely important to communicate love and attention.

2. Create a Predictable and Safe Environment

A stable and predictable environment helps infants feel secure and understand what to expect from their world. Establish daily routines for feeding, sleeping, and playtime. Consistency helps infants feel secure and reduces anxiety. Ensure your baby’s environment is safe and free from hazards.

3. Promote Positive Interactions

Positive interactions with caregivers and other family members foster a sense of belonging and social competence. Engage in regular playtime. Simple games like peek-a-boo or singing songs stimulate your baby’s brain and strengthen your bond. Encourage and praise your baby’s efforts and achievements, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement builds self-esteem and encourages exploration.

4. Support Emotional Expression

Helping your infant express and manage their emotions is a central aspect of mental health. Use simple language to label your baby’s emotions. For example, “You’re happy!” or “You’re feeling sad.” Teach and model calming techniques, such as deep breathing or gentle rocking, to help your baby learn to self-soothe.

By understanding its importance and implementing supportive practices, you can provide a strong foundation for your child’s future emotional, social, and cognitive development. Always remember, your love, attention, and care are the most powerful tools in nurturing your child’s mental health. So, take the time to bond, respond, and engage with your child, because their mental health matters more than you think. And if you need any help along the way, our professional team of parenting therapists are here to support you every step of the way.

Written by Rebecca Deane – Clinical Psychologist – Creating Change Psychology

Psychology support in the Hills District, Western Sydney & Surrounds (including Rouse Hill, Bella Vista, Glenwood, Castle Hill, Kellyville, The Hawkesbury, Penrith Nepean, Blacktown, Epping, Ryde, Pennant Hills areas and surrounds)