The first three years of life are a key stage in children’s social and emotional development and wellbeing. Babies are born ready to interact with their environment and caregivers, and experience emotions as soon as they are born. However they cannot verbalise these emotions or regulate them themselves, and depend on their caregivers to respond to their needs. When their emotional needs are met, they feel safe and secure, which allows them to develop and learn.
This is Infant Mental Health, and it is as vital to a child’s development as their physical health.
June 7th to 12th is Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, and it comes at the perfect time as due to the unprecedented events of the past few months, infant mental health is more important than ever.
If there is one thing Covid-19 has taught us all, it’s that children and their parents are resilient. They have coped with all that has been asked of them in these uncertain times, and flourished. Here are a few ways to boost infant mental health without leaving home.
Babies are social beings, they are primed to seek a connection and relationship with their parents from birth. Talk to your baby as much as you can, smile at her and make silly faces. Babies also love tactile stimulation, baby massage is a good way to connect with your little one through touch.
2. Follow Baby’s Cues
Your baby may not be able to talk yet, but as you get to know each other, you will see she finds a way to make herself understood! Hunger cues can be obvious, such as putting her hand to her mouth or sucking her fingers. Slow blinking may be a sign that baby is tired. Offering her food when she signals she is hungry and holding her gently in your arms and singing to her when she is sleepy are good ways to soothe and settle baby. Following your baby’s lead can make her feel safe and secure.
3. See Through Your Baby’s Eyes
The theme for IMHAW this year is 2020 vision- seeing through your baby’s eyes. This is one of the cornerstones of infant mental health. Try to see the world as your baby would see it. Get to know your baby’s behaviour and try to understand her reasoning behind it. This will help you to respond to her needs.
4. Spoil Your Baby!
When your baby is unsettled, respond to her. By responding to baby you are helping her to return to a calm, settled emotional state. Your response will stop baby from becoming more unsettled and will help her to learn coping skills and support her development. In the past this kind of responsiveness may have been considered ‘spoiling’ a child, but if that is the case, every child should be spoiled!
5. Good Self Care
For good infant mental health, your baby needs a calm, predictable environment with a responsive parent. But to provide this you need to make sure you look after your own mental and physical health too. When you are happy and healthy, you are better equipped to care for your baby. So take some time, even if it’s just five minutes, to relax every day. Sleep when baby sleeps and if help is offered, take it and treat yourself to a warm bath or a meal cooked by someone else. Even small things make a big difference.
Do you have any tips and tricks for new parents in infant mental health awareness week? Share them with us here!