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toddler holding adult's hand, with accompanying images of children's self-portrait drawings

Supporting the Mental Health of Our Youngest Humans

As adults in the lives of young children, we comfortably explore all the ways in which we can continually support children’s cognitive and language development as well as overall physical health, attending to children’s needs for proper nutritional intake and physical activity.  However, as a society, the term “mental” health tends to trigger uncomfortable feelings and associations – especially when applied to infants, toddlers, and young children.  In fact, intentionally supporting the mental health of our youngest humans lays the foundation for healthy lifelong development in all areas.   Zero to Three defines Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) as “the developing capacity of the child from birth to 5 years old 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.”

Over the past three years, The Efshar Project has offered the opportunity to participate in the Foundations of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health training series designed by the Colorado Association for Infant Mental Health (COAIMH). Nearly 40 of our Jewish ECE educators and directors have now completed the series, growing their knowledge and shared language around infant and early childhood mental health principles and delving into the topics of attachment, temperament, regulation, brain architecture, cultural responsiveness, toxic stress, reflective practice and more. When early educators increase their understanding in this area, it lays a foundation for supporting emotional wellbeing and resilience in the children with which they work.  COAIMH also offers an Infant Mental Health Endorsement that recognizes achievement of knowledge and training in the area of infant and early childhood mental health and hopefully an increasing number of our educators will go on to pursue this endorsement, adding to the knowledge base of our early childhood settings.

The latest issue of NAEYC’ Young Children journal is focused on social and emotional development and features the following interesting article related to understanding and supporting young children’s mental health during the pandemic – Caring for the Mental Health of Infants and Toddlers.

Other Resources on this topic include:

From Zero to Three:

From Harvard Center on the Developing Child:

Understanding and supporting the mental health of young children is a major task of early childhood educators in partnership with families. The result is children who have healthy attachments and relationships with adults and peers, who are emotionally intelligent, happily explore their world to build meaning and knowledge, and who grow up to be healthy contributing members of society.  It’s time we talk about, learn about, and elevate the topic of infant and early childhood mental health for the sake of our children and for the sake of our society.