Children’s mental health
One of the interesting things about the term infant mental health or early childhood mental health, is that it’s not a commonly used or well understood term, I don’t think, in early childhood education and care. So, in the first instance as we think about things around children’s mental health, their wellbeing and their identity, it might be helpful for us to think a little bit about the terms we use and the names we call things.
Understanding Children’s mental health and how it affects relationships
Our commitment to building relationships and forming connections with children, and nurturing their sense of who they are and where they belong, and with whom they belong are all of the things that we think about in terms of children’s mental health. Early childhood mental health and good social and emotional development for children really are synonymous terms and can be used interchangeably, and it’s really referring to a child’s capacity to experience, express and manage a variety of emotions, so both positive emotions and difficult or negative emotions.
To be able to form close and satisfying relationships with caregivers and peers and others – and to be able to explore and master their environment – it’s really important that we pay very close attention to children’s mental health in the early years, because it’s in the early years that the foundations are laid down for them to manage their feelings in the future, and how they manage their feelings at the time, is very much a process of what they are learning themselves but also what they get back from their relationships.
Good mental health is developed
It doesn’t appear all by itself ;It’s developed in relationships with other people, in the beginning, that’s the primary relationship with the mum and the dad and the brothers and sisters if there’s brothers and sisters, and then it’s extended out to other people that the child meets. And you can see that children will be learning how to manage their feelings; they’ll look at their carer to see whether their feelings are appropriate or not, or whether they should worry or not. Over time with those sorts of things happening over and over and over again, the repetition of it all, that’s how children learn how to manage their feelings and that’s the foundation for good mental health.
How Relationships influences Children’s mental health
People that children have important relationships with model ways of being and ways of relating to other people, ways of dealing with feelings that children learn from. I mean, children want to learn from people that they’re attached to, from people that they have strong positive relationships with, so I think there’s the deliberate intentional teaching that educators do, but there’s also just, just the fact of the relationship and the way the educator is, the kind of person he or she is, the ways they resolve conflicts, and the ways they deal with their own strong feelings.
Children absorb those and learn from those, and can apply those in, in their relationships. Being in a safe, secure and nurturing relationship does prepare you for being in other relationships.
- So it gives the child an opportunity to understand the give and take in a relationship, and the benefits of that.
- It gives the child an opportunity to satisfactorily resolve conflict with another person.
- It gives the child an opportunity to feel valued and important within relationships and important to other people.
- It helps the child focus So being with other people does help with concentration and attention And whatever their experience is, if they’ve had a very good experience of secure, loving and responsive care, they’re much more likely to be able to provide that to another person in the future.
Summary and conclusion
Relationships have many, many purposes for children. They are opportunities for children to grow and explore; they’re platforms for children to spring from; they’re places where children can be vulnerable and explore some of the difficulties; they’re places where children can demonstrate, you know, distress; and build resilience.
I don’t believe children can do any of those things unless they’re in significant, safe relationships that are unconditional, purposeful, intentional and really meaningful to children. What we do with our work in early childhood when children are very little has far-reaching significant, long-term effects on children’s capacity to be content and build relationships and grow and flourish.