Mental Health in Early Childhood

Mental Health in Early Childhood

The pandemic has robbed our children with a rich and experience-filled childhood. With the limited interactions we have and isolation due to home quarantine, opportunities for development may be impeded and thus affect their mental health. 

In today’s Brain Snacks, we explore the impact of the pandemic to the mental well-being of our kids. Being mentally healthy does not necessarily mean the absence of a mental disorder. The disruption of routine, isolation from peers, and lack of engaging activities may significantly affect your child’s mental health. Thus, as their guardians, we must do our best to help them adjust in this “new normal”.

Mental health problems in young children exist! For children in their early years, mental health may be observed through their emotions and engagement in relationships and with the environment.[3] Due to the pandemic, the interactions and exposure of children to learning environments have become limited. What can we do?

Infant and early childhood mental health [3]

  • “[This] is the developing capacity of the child from birth to 5 years old to form close and secure adult and peer relationships; experience, manage, and express a full range of emotions; and explore the environment and learn—all in the context of family, community, and culture.” – Zero to Three (2017)

Signs of a mentally healthy child [1]

  • They show typical development in the socio-emotional domain
  • They are able to function and do their daily tasks with ease
  • They are able to independently cope with problems/challenges 

This pandemic life is not ideal for normal developmental events of children. Routinary and structured-activities that benefit children, were disrupted and became limited due to pandemic protocols.

  • Disrupted interactions
    • Limited socialization opportunities due to home quarantine
    • Isolation from peers
  • “Normal” routines gone 
    • For example, leaving the house to attend school
  • Increased anxiety
    • Intensified in older children due to the challenges of remote learning 
    • Concerns on getting ill 

What can we do for our children?

As primary caregivers, we must help our children adapt to the environment. When big problems, like the pandemic and the lockdown, arise, we can help by processing why such problems are happening, and explain why we need to stay at home. Just like in any relationship, constantly checking up on your child helps greatly. We also need to empathize and provide the assurance that their feelings are valid.

For Younger kids (1 to 5 y/o)

  • Initiate learning experiences at home
  • Spend time with them through play and activities

Older kids (6 y/o and above)

  • Assure them that it is okay and everyone struggles in different ways
  • Start a conversation about their interests
  • Encourage good health habits (eating well and movement)

References:

[1] Zero to Three (2017). The Basics of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Briefing Paper. Retrieved from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1951-the-basics-of-infant-and-early-childhood-mental-health-a-briefing-paper

[2] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/basics.html

[3]Center on the Developing Child (2013). Early Childhood Mental Health (InBrief). Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.

[4] Vernabas, P. (2021).Managing childrens mental health during the pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.rutgers.edu/news/managing-childrens-mental-health-during-pandemic

[5] Davis, L.S. (2021). Keep paying attention to your kids’ mental health in this pandemic. Retrieved fromhttps://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/10/health/kids-mental-health-suicide-pandemic-wellness/index.html

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

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