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Mental Health Needs of Infants

What are the Mental Health Needs of Infants?

Mental health needs of infants refers to the healthy social-emotional developmental needs of children and their relationships with primary attachment- figures (caregivers) from birth until the age of five.

The early attachment and temperament are the building blocks for later personality development. Since young children’s social experiences depend on the tender- loving care they receive, the trust and caring relationships are vital to the mental health of infants.

Why are Mental Health Needs of Infants important?

They are important because they equip the child in acquiring a normal balanced life in terms of social and emotional development.

Social-emotional development includes the ability to form healthy relationships with others, and the knowledge of social rules and standards. At the same time, the child will learn to experience and understand the feelings about him or herself and others as well and learn to control and regulate feelings in an appropriate way. These will result in positive self-worth, self-confidence and proper self-regulation.

How are Mental Health Needs of Infant nurtured by relationships?

Loving and nurturing relationships play on important role in mental health. When infants and toddlers are treated with kindness and encouragement, they develop a sense of safety and emotional security and these provide a “secure base” from which children can begin exploring the world with frequent checks for reassurance, of course. The more they explore and try new things, the more experienced and confident they are.

What are the signs of unhealthy early relationships?

  • Feeling sad, rejected and lack of joy.
  • Become depressed, develop eating or sleeping problems.
  • Behavioral problems like rocking back-and-forth trying to comfort themselves. They may starve for affection like seeking hugs from any willing adult.
  • Anger and irritability. Become aggressive and hostile without provocation. Resistant to any comforting act.

What are behaviors that indicate mental health problems?

Infants and Toddlers

  • Display very little emotion
  • Do not show interest in sights, sounds or touch
  • Reject or avoid being touched or held or playing with others
  • Unusually difficult to soothe or console
  • Unable to comfort or calm him or herself
  • Extremely fearful or on-guard
  • Do not turn to familiar adults for comfort or help
  • Exhibit sudden behavior changes

Preschool Children

  • Cannot play with others or toys
  • Absence of language or communication
  • Frequently fights with others
  • Very sad
  • Unusually fearful
  • Inappropriate responses to situations (e.g., laughs instead of cries)
  • Withdrawn
  • Extremely active
  • Loss of earlier skills (e.g., toileting, language, motor)
  • Sudden behavior changes
  • Very accident prone
  • Destructive to self and/or others

What can be done to nurture children’s social-emotional development?

  • Provide infants with nurturing relationships.
  • Be happy—smile and laugh.
  • Create a trusting environment.
  • Provide stable and consistent nurturing at home and in child care.
  • Understand and respond to infant’s cues.
  • Love them unconditionally.
  • Comfort them when they are scared, angry, or hurt.
  • Develop daily routines to promote babies’ feeling of security and to help them learn what you expect.
  • Learn developmental stages and have appropriate expectations.
  • Model good relationships and healthy ways to manage conflict.
  • Identify early signs of social-emotional problems.

(Note: One in 10 mothers suffer from post-natal depression – a treatable condition which can cause mothers to be unable to provide the above nurturing and warm interactions for their infants and toddlers. If mothers experience depressive symptoms e.g. irritable mood, loss of interests, it is IMPORTANT for them to seek medical treatment for the sake of their young children.)

How to get help?

  • Talk with pediatricians, primary care providers or clinical psychologists.
  • Seek mental health providers who have expertise with young children
Last Reviewed : 28 August 2020
Writer/Translator : Prof. Madya Dr. Mohd Jamil bin Yaakob
Reviewer : Dr. Eni Rahaiza bte. Muhamed Ramli
  : Dr. Nurulwafa bt. Hussain