One may think, “Infants are too young to have real emotional issues.” Truth of the matter is babies are very vulnerable to mental health problems. This is not widespread knowledge but scientists are increasingly becoming aware that a child’s physical, emotional, and cognitive developments are intrinsically tied to infant relationships, especially with his primary caregiver. Although, other relationships in later childhood and adolescence are crucial as well in a person’s psychological development, the foundational key to sound mental health is in infant-caregiver relations.
Scope of Infant Mental Health?
Infant mental health encompasses the social and emotional well-being of a child from birth to his preschool years. Central to these vital developmental years are the child’s relationships with his parents, immediate family members, and primary caregivers. These early relationships form the foundation of his capacities to love, manage the gamut of human emotions, develop his sense of self and worth, and have the resilience to adapt to his environment.
How Do Infants Acquire Emotional Problems?
It is surprising but babies can start being depressed as early as 2 to 3 months after birth. Because infants cannot communicate verbally very well, one may not discern classic signs of mental issues in babies. Depression, anxiety, and fear are usually symptomised by poor sleeping patterns, restlessness, feeding difficulties, gastric problems, and attachment insecurities, to name a few. If these distress signals are not constantly responded to with love and devotion, emotions babies can instinctively sense, the tendency to acquire mental health issues in the next few years or later in life becomes more imminent.
Because the period of dependence takes many long years, humans are evolutionarily designed to seek security and love from parents or other primary caregivers for physical and emotional survival. A child’s unwavering faith that his needs are and will be met usually forms the basis for his lifelong sense of self worth and confidence. The lack of trust in these early relationships, on the other hand, creates the foundations of psychological and mental issues.
Why Focus on a Baby’s Mental Health?
If we want to raise a happy, confident adult, we have to provide the nurture from day one.
A baby must feel constant love and attention to feel confident enough to start exploring the world outside of himself. He needs to know that there is a secure “base” of a loving relationship to fall back on for reassurance when trying new things and making mistakes. The more a toddler feels valued, the more confident he will be to discover himself and the world around him.
When children experience kind, nurturing relationships, they learn valuable social relationship skills essential to their advanced mental growth and development. These are the kids that grow to care for others who generally will respond in kind. Healthy social relationships are important factors to achieving positive outlooks and good experiences in life.
Signs of Mental Health Problems
In an Infant and Toddler:
- Inability to calm or console himself
- Does not display much emotion
- Exhibits fear ; very guarded
- Shows sudden behavioural changes
- Not easy to soothe or calm down
- Rejects touch ; avoids being held
- Avoids playing with others
- Exhibits disinterest in many things
- Does not seek comfort or help from adults they already know
- Refuses to socialize in play with others
- Looks very sad; withdrawn; prefers being solitary
- Very fearful of things, situations, and other people
- Loses earlier skills like toileting and sentence construction
- Destructive behaviours towards self and others
- Unusually hyperactive
- Exhibits inappropriate reactions to situations (ex. crying when everyone is enjoying something)
- Frequently picks fights
- Behaves inappropriately or makes sudden behavioural changes
How Are Infants with Emotional Problems Treated?
Treatment usually involves working with parents and babies. Scope of treatment usually emphasizes parent-baby interaction and the knowledge of how to meet emotional needs of babies. Mental health providers who specialize in very young children may include approaches like home visits, infant-parent psychotherapy, and attachment focus strategies.
To nip mental health disorders in the bud, it is important that parents, primary caregivers, and other family members are made aware of the importance of maintaining nurturing relationships with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.