Infant mental health refers to “the developing capacity of the infant and young child (from pregnancy to 3 years old) to experience, express and regulate emotions; form close and secure relationships; and explore the environment and learn,” in the context of a care-giving environment that includes family, community, and cultural expectations (1).
SOPHROSYNA is committed to improving community recognition that infancy and early childhood is a critical time for the development of emotional, physical and mental health. We offer seminars that enhance knowledge about social and emotional development in 0 to 3-year-olds and parenting workshops for the development of nurturing and strong relationships. The importance of the maternal and infant relationship is universally known to be critical during the early years of a child’s life. This is why at SOPHROSYNA we believe it is important to screen pregnant women for mood disorders and to treat new mothers who may be suffering from a mood disorder like depression or anxiety. If this is to be the case for mum, then dads role is even more critical in his infants development for the infant needs to establish a nurturing relationship with a primary caregiver.
Research demonstrates that three factors are critical to a child in the first three years of life:
When we ensure babies develop a sturdy brain architecture, we support them in their lifetime of learning and productive participation in society. Having a reliable caregiver who is responsive and sensitive to a baby’s need is the base for secure attachment, which allows an infant to learn and explore stress-free. This is why it is so important to engage couples in pregnancy and new parents in the preparation of parenthood, regardless if they have a history of mood disorders.
Infants and toddlers respond to toxic stress from disruptive parent-infant relationships. Toxic stress refers to negative parental behaviour, such as, poor communication (shouting), neglect or domestic violence. A baby’s stress hormones can go into overdrive and these stress hormones disrupt the brain and physical development. The result is a confused baby who cannot learn whether their brain and body is working against them. The only treatment for toxic stress is affection and protection by a nurturing caregiver. Mothers and fathers who live with a mood disorder are unable to provide this level of care to their infant. This is why treating parents with depression or other serious mental disorders is crucial.
Secure attachment is the single most critical element of social function. Children need relationships with available, responsive and sensitive caregivers in order to self-regulate, get along with others, problem-solve and be productive. These are the basics for emotional, social and economic prosperity. Infants and toddlers with broken caregiver relationships are unable to thrive emotionally and more likely to develop problematic behaviour as older children and adolescents. Working with all family members is important to achieving healthy relationships and building mutual respect and affection.
SOPHROSYNA advocates for the social, emotional and cognitive well-being of infants and toddlers 0-3yrs, through psychoeducation and workshops for parents so that they can build secure and stable relationships with their children.
- Osofsky, J.D. & Thomas, K. (2012). What is Infant Mental Health? Zero to Three (J), v33 n2 p9
- Australian Association of Infant Mental Health Inc. http://www.aaimhi.org/
- World Association of Infant Mental Health http://www.waimh.org/