Young Children’s Mental Health
Young children’s mental health is defined as the ability of a child, who is between the ages of 0 to 5 years old, to feel loved, safety and comfort in familiar people around them such as caregivers, parents, grandparents, siblings and peers. By feeling those feelings the child is able to have a positive response and is able to show those feeling back. Early childhood mental health also involves the child's ability to be comfortable expressing feelings (happy, sad, anger) to the people in their lives who have bonded with them. With all of that in place a child feels more comfortable to seek out new learning experiences. Young children’s mental health is split into two categories, infant mental health, referring to children ages zero to three and early childhood mental health which refers to children three to five years old. Early childhood mental health can be considered to be synonymous with healthy social and emotional development (Parlakian, P. and Seibel, N.L., 2002) Sometimes people get confused between mental health and mental illness. The two are more of opposites then they are alike. “A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.” (Nami, 1996-2014). Mental health is not an illness or a medical condition. Mental health is supportive of a child’s development and a mental illness may prevent a child from having a healthy social and emotional experiences. There are many factors that are involved in mental health such as relationships, child development and culture. Infants are born with the ability to engage in relationships with adults. (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000). With those relationships children are able to express themselves to their caregivers. Supportive relationships with adults, particularly primary caregivers, “are crucial both for physical survival and for healthy social-emotional development.” (Parlakian & Seibel, 2002). When children grow and learn this is considered child development. As children gain social-emotional skills they begin experiencing new things and learn to express themselves better. They are able to communicate their wants and needs with caretakers and they are able to build friendships with their peers. Culture is yet another factor of early childhood mental health. It is very important to understand each family’s culture so that you can provide the best care for each child’s mental health. Culture in infant mental health is more than customs; it is the way of being with each other, the way of expecting relationships to be. Culture defines the world of the child. (Alaska Early Intervention/Infant Learning Program, 2011).
Importance of Child Safety
Keeping children safe is also an important factor for a child growth and development. Protecting children from being hurt is common sense for most people but not everybody thinks beyond the basics of safety. Safety is not just following by the laws or keeping an eye on the children. Hidden hazards are everywhere. Early childhood is the time of life when children are most likely to be injured. (Aronson, 2012). Children should be provided with a hazard free environment so that they are able to explore and play. Children learn with their senses. They smell, touch and taste everything within reach. Not only do we need to keep children safe by preventing them being hurt but it is also important for a child’s mental health and development to feel safe and secure. If a child is feeling uneasy with the people around him it is less likely that he will move forward and progress in his development. Early childhood educators need to be very diligent in keeping the children’s environment safe not only to keep them safe but to promote learning. An American physiologist, Abraham Maslow, created a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. (New York Times, 1970). This theory explains that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfill the next need and so on. (McLeod, 2007). To explain his theory better he created a pyramid of stages in which he felt that people needed to achieve to grow. Looking at the pyramid the stages are very much the same as the needs of children and in the order that children learn and develop. It seems that Maslow’s theory could be applied to anybody’s mental health not just children. All childcare centers must have policies and procedures that are followed at all times. The safety policies are created to keep the children safe while they are in the childcare center. Some policies are created to keep children healthy. Requiring every child to be immunized is a safety precaution to prevent the child from becoming very ill. Having children removed from childcare when they are sick is to prevent other children from becoming sick. Policies about safety are important so that children do not get hurt, hospitalized or even die. Policies on good nutrition require children to eat foods that promote growth and a healthy lifestyle. It is also important for childcare teachers to make the children feel safe and secure so that they are able to move around the room knowing that someone is there to protect them. When children feel safe, healthy and loved they can then move to their next goals of building friendships, learning new skills and feeling confident in themselves.
Supporting and Protecting the Mental Health of Young Children
Child Care professional paly a huge role in supporting and protecting a young child’s mental health. A childcare professional needs to provide the children with a safe learning environment with access to developmentally appropriate learning tools. Children also need to have a good quality relationship with their caregiver. “When caregivers are warm, attentive, and sensitive to infant distress, children tend to show more positive developmental outcomes.” (Zeanah & Zeanah, 2009). It is just as important to have good relationships with the children’s families. “For some families, child care staff members function as extended family”. (Aronson, 2012). Parents need to be able to communicate their concerns with the child care teacher and the teacher needs to be comfortable discussing concerns with parents. Child care professionals should have plans about how they intend to develop, support and protect the mental health of young children. These plans should include the five R’s: relationships, responsive interactions, respect, routines and repetition. (Butterfield, 2012). In order for child care professionals to have good relationships with children and families the child care professional needs to be understanding, loving, caring and supportive to both the child and the families. It is very easy to show love to a child. Hugs, smiling faces and communicating with children helps them feel good about their relationship with their childcare teacher. Responsive interactions would be to respond to children when they are in distress, talk to them when they are sad and be happy for them when they are excited about the happenings of their day. A great example of showing a child respect is to sit with them on the floor when talking to them so that they feel like you are on the same level as they are. (Butterfield, 2012). Following routines is very helpful in the development growth of young children. By having routines in place a child will build their memory skills. In addition to memory skills children will start to learn sequencing and then they will be able to look forward to their favorite part of the day because they will know that dance time comes right after breakfast or that crafts is after they wake up from nap. Repetition is the best way for children to learn. Most children know the ABC song long before they understand that they are singing about letters. That is because that is one of the first songs that child care teachers sing to the children. Everyday childcare teachers are singing the same songs to children and before too long the children are singing the words with them.