For Families
What is Infant Toddler Mental Health?

Infant mental health is recognized as the ability of a child, from birth to three, to “experience, regulate and express emotions; form close and secure interpersonal relationships; and explore the environment and learn” (ZERO TO THREE Policy Center, 2004). Another term for infant mental health is social emotional development. These terms are the same. Social emotional development plays an important role in every child’s life. Each child is born ready to form a strong bond with a primary caregiver, usually a parent. For babies, this is a critical element to survival. Most people realize that a baby depends on an adult to help facilitate every basic physical need—eating, sleeping, and staying clean and dry. Babies also depend on their primary caregiver for their emotional needs. By consistently responding to your baby’s cry with a warm, soothing hug, and attention to the child’s need, he or she will learn to trust and regulate emotions, which over time will lead to school readiness, positive social behavior, and lifelong nurturing relationships.

How can I help my child?

Here are a few ways you can help your child to begin to develop friendships, express feelings, and explore his importance in the family and community:

  • Check out this NEW resource: Family Guide for Language Development
  • Read to your child daily. Not only will you encourage brain development, but you will also provide a time for you to connect with your child.
  • Make emotion faces in a mirror. You can explore happy faces, sad faces, surprised faces, angry faces, and more.
  • Share a loaf of bread with the birds or ask your child to help with watering the plants. Explain that living things need to be taken care of to grow.
  • Encourage your child to develop independence by making simple choices. For example, “Would you like to wear your red shirt or blue shirt today?”
  • Establish a routine around familiar activities such as washing hands before eating, brushing teeth after eating, reading books before bedtime, and eating meals together. For more ideas suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics to promote the social emotional development of young children, please click here.
Where can I get more information?

If you have questions about your child’s development, please visit Help Me Grow West Virginia. Help Me Grow is a free referral service that connects families with critical developmental resources for their children birth through five years.

Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia
Partners in Community Outreach West Virginia
Western Regional CASA
West Virginia Infant Toddler Mental Health Association
Mountain State Healthy Families