Skip to main content

The Importance of Early Childhood Mental Health

This article was originally published in the Racine Journal Times
 
Mary Poppins says, “Start at the very beginning…a very good place to start.” The foundation of kids’ mental health is built when they are infants, toddlers and young children. As parents and caregivers, we have tremendous influence on how children’s mental health develops.
 
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin supports families in helping kids grow up strong –– physically, mentally and socially. We join the Racine community in celebrating the Week of the Young Child and United Way of Racine County’s Week of the Young Child Celebration this Saturday, April 13 at Case High School.
 
Early experiences matter
 
Children’s robust mental health begins in the early childhood years as a result of relationships with the caregivers around them. 

Early experiences of attachment, trust, and love shape how our brains view the world. 

Children start to develop self-confidence, curiosity, persistence, self-control and trust in infancy. It’s critical that early relationships with parents, family members and day care providers are strong.

Activities for every age

No matter a child’s age, you can provide positive experiences that help build strong mental health.

Infants: 

Snuggle, sing to your baby and respond to your baby’s cues by talking or making facial expressions. 

Make eye contact with your baby and smile. 

Talk to your baby. Even if they don’t know what you are saying, it helps their brain grow and develops trust.

Toddlers: 

Try “floor time” –– getting down on the floor with your child and allowing them to lead the play. 

Give kids opportunities to develop motor skills through playground play, building with blocks and learning to throw a ball.

Read to your child as much as you can.

Preschoolers:

Establish a daily routine with your child to help them feel secure and give them predictability.

Help your child name and recognize their feelings asking them, “Are you feeling excited?” Or “It looks like you’re feeling frustrated.”

Set aside at least 10-20 minutes each day to play with your child and follow their lead.

Resources

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services offers many resources in the community.  

At our community therapy office, we provide child and family therapy services for children ages 0-18 and their families with the goal of bringing about change through individual, family and parenting work. This office is located at 8800 Washington Ave. Suite 100, Mount Pleasant, or call (262) 633-3591.

We partner with Racine Unified School District where our full-time therapists provide mental health support to students in five different elementary schools: SC Johnson, Wadewitz, Knapp, Fratt and Julian Thomas. For more information, call (262) 633-3591.

For all parents, we offer the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P). Triple P is an evidenced based parenting program that gives parents practical strategies to manage and prevent their child’s concerning behavior(s) and help them build strong and healthy relationships within their families. Learn more at chw.org.

If you are concerned about issues with your child, talk to your trusted provider. In the meantime, take the time this week to share a smile, a laugh or an outing with the young child in your life! 

Gretchen Huletz - Community Services Manager, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin