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Do babies have mental health needs? Check the headlines.

sad child looks over parent shoulder

Babies come into the world with a capacity for a rich emotional life and are so much more than passive observers of the world around them.

“Infant mental health” refers to how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to three, and begins even before our birth. It is inextricably linked to the mental and physical health of a baby’s parent or caregiver.

Understanding infant mental health is the key to preventing and treating the mental health problems of very young children and their families. It also helps guide the development of healthy social and emotional behaviors. For 45 years, ZERO TO THREE has been transforming the field of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (or IECMH) through a deep commitment to the relationships between caring adults and the babies whose lives they touch, the foundation of healthy and happy development.

As the world grapples with the stress of the pandemic, its financial impact, and military violence in countries like Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, IECMH is becoming a focus of more and more coverage.

The Washington Post published, Trauma in infancy can have a lingering effect throughout life on the role that early traumas, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, play in our lifelong health and well-being. Our very own Kathleen Mulrooney, Director, Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Program, weighed in on the important role of parents and others in buffering the impact of trauma:

“The ability of parents or key caregivers to provide protection, to have a co-regulating role when it comes to the stress response is critical,” -Kathleen Mulrooney

Additionally, USA TODAY highlighted the need to support the mental health of our youngest children in their article, Is my child too young for mental health counseling? Here’s what to know.

For early childhood professionals and others newer to the idea of IECMH, Kathleen and Gwen Doland, Clinical Manager for ZERO TO THREE’s Infant and Toddler Mental Health Program, break down the basics of infant mental health through the lens of child welfare:

IECMH Resources

The Fundamentals of Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health These articles provide infant-early childhood mental health professionals with an understanding of effective promotion, prevention, and treatment strategies.

Caring for Mental Health in Early Childhood Education Settings (Member-Exclusive Resource) This issue of the ZERO TO THREE Journal represents a unique collaboration between ZERO TO THREE and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to collectively focus our respective journals on the emotional health of infants and toddlers. Perhaps more than ever, mental health has been on the minds of many over the past year, and this issue includes what we know from research about the emotional health of infants and toddlers and the adults who care for and educate them.

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Policy Series This series of ZERO TO THREE briefing papers on infant and early childhood mental health policy are designed to generate awareness, interest, and action among federal and state policymakers, behavioral health administrators, and advocates.

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