Mental Health in Early Childhood

Early childhood mental health is a young child’s ability to:

  • experience, express and regulate emotions
  • form close and secure interpersonal relationships
  • explore the environment and
  • learn all in the context of family, community and cultural expectations for young children.

Keeping children happy and healthy involves looking after their mental health as well as their physical health. Early childhood mental health is synonymous with healthy emotional and social development. Mental health is about having a healthy body and mind and influences how we think, what we do, how we feel about ourselves, and how we relate to others. Good mental health in early childhood helps children to form positive relationships with others handle ups and downs and generally enjoy childhood. With good mental health, children are more open to trying and learning new things and can feel good about themselves. Good mental health in early childhood lays the foundations for positive mental health and wellbeing into the future.

While some medical conditions have a direct cause, mental health difficulties are caused by multiple factors that interact in different ways depending on the individual child, their family, and their social circumstances. Psychological, biological and social factors all influence children’s mental health in early childhood and any of these factors can have either a positive or negative influence on a child’s mental health.

Mental health difficulties in early childhood affect children’s feelings, learning, behavior, relationships with others, as well as their physical health and wellbeing. There are many ways that parents or carers can support children who are experiencing mental health difficulties in early childhood. Even there are many effective supports for children experiencing mental health difficulties, many children do not receive the help they need. This can happen because families are unsure of whether their child has a mental health difficulty, or they do not know what to do or where to go to get mental health support. Ideal places for families to access information about supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their children can be early childhood services.

Parents or carers can work with early childhood services to support children experiencing mental health difficulties by:

  • Sharing discussions with other families and staff about topics related to mental health, in order to reduce stereotypes and increase understanding.
  • Having frequent contact with staff to ask questions how your child is going at the service.
  • Reading mental health resources that are offered at your early childhood service.
  • Meeting and talking with staff about particular things your child may be going through.
  • Following up on what you have discussed with the staff to see how your child is going at the service.
  • Going to family and parenting support groups and sharing useful strategies you have learned about responding to your child with the early childhood service.
  • Finding out what local mental health support services are available in your community.
  • Attending information sessions on particular topics related to children’s mental health.
  • Accessing mental health information from quality sources.