Parenting Resource

Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health

Feb 10, 2016

Infant-early childhood mental health (I-ECMH) is the developing capacity of the child from birth to 5 years of age to form close relationships, manage and express emotions, and explore the environment and learn.

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Infant-early childhood mental health, sometimes referred to as social and emotional health, is the developing capacity of the child from birth to 5 years of age to form close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, manage, and express a full range of emotions; and explore the environment and learn—all in the context of family, community, and culture. Strategies to improve I-ECMH fall along a promotion, prevention and treatment continuum.


Promotion services encourage and support social-emotional wellness. Promotion services are universal; they reach out to all parents of very young children. Examples of promotion programs include social marketing efforts that encourage parents to talk to and play with their infants and toddlers, social-emotional screening during well-child visits, or parent telephone “warmlines” that encourage calls from those with questions about typical child behaviors and development.


Prevention programs reach out to families that are experiencing levels of stress that may increase their young children’s risk of developing social-emotional or mental health problems. These programs seek to prevent the development of early childhood mental health difficulties by providing needed support and information. Examples of prevention programs include home visiting for families with young children, mental health consultation for child care programs, or self-help support groups for parents who are concerned they could abuse or neglect their infant or toddler.


Treatment programs are designed to alleviate the distress and suffering of an infant or young child’s mental health problem and support the return to healthy development and behavior. Public and private mental health treatment programs and early intervention programs assess, diagnose and treat mental health and developmental disorders.

Adapted from: Cohen, J., Onunaku, N., Clothier, S., and Poppe, J. (2005) Helping Young Children Succeed: Strategies to Promote Early Childhood Social and Emotional Development. Washington, DC: National Conference of State Legislatures. Available online here.

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