How to support your child's mental health from birth
To support your baby's emotional development from the start, we must be responsive to their communicative ways when they cry, babble, or make physical movements.
Acknowledging their emotional expressions and learning how your baby expresses emotions is essential so you know what to do to soothe them.
Respond to their feelings calmly, gently, and sensitively to meet their needs.
Soothing actions like rocking, patting, or singing in response to emotional displays will also help them.
Building resilience in your child is essential so that they can learn to cope with life's ups and downs. Things may not work out the way you planned. When this happens, try to consider the positives in the situation and focus on those:
Find a way to work things out with your little one and share this experience with them. For example, tell them why you're not going to the park today, although you've both been looking forward to it all week.
Why not make an obstacle course outside, so your little one can still release their energy and be out in the fresh air?
Children start to problem solve from birth through learning to communicate and learning to move. Allow your little one to experience trial and error, take risks, and let them share whether something will work or not. This is all part of their emotional development!
You are teaching your little one about emotions
Your little one's growing experiences and development can be overwhelming at times. They are beginning to learn and explore all of their senses to learn from the environment around them.
Beyond the physical, and cognitive thinking skills, and language tasks, your baby is also learning about their social and emotional self and learning to express their feelings and emotions. Children who understand their own and others' emotions can regulate their responses to intense feelings.
Don't be afraid to express your emotions; be open to vulnerability:
Teach your little one that it's okay to be cross or sad, and tell them you sometimes feel the same.
You can help them explore emotions together by playing guessing games, pulling a happy face, and letting them copy you!
Or, draw faces on paper and copy those too.
The importance of bonding for emotional development
From the moment your baby is born, they have a strong need for love. This is because babies are dependent on their primary carers. The love you give your little one helps your baby feel safe in the world and develop trust in other people. And that is all a baby needs to thrive! Feeling safe and loved are the foundations of your baby's overall development.
Cuddles and other small actions demonstrate your love and help them feel more secure.
Bonding teaches your baby to trust you, communicate their feelings to you, and eventually trust others.
Respond to your baby's communication attempts.
Your baby will communicate with facial expressions, body movements, and vocalisation.
As your baby grows, their bond with you and other caregivers gets stronger; they gradually build confidence and roam further and further from their "secure base". Finally, they will understand that there is always a safe place to return to (even in their teenage years!).
All babies and toddlers are unique and learn differently at other times. But, like adults, your baby needs to feel known and listened to.
Listening improves the bond in a relationship and builds a child's confidence.
When we don't feel listened to, we often start escalating our behaviour in frustration to communicate our emotions.
Allowing them to find solutions to their issues helps them develop problem-solving skills.
Asking for help
Attending to your baby's needs when they indicate or ask for your help, whether that means helping them clean up or a hug, letting them know that you are there for them, does wonders for their mental health and well-being.
Adults need to speak up too. If you find life challenging, charities such as Mind, the Mental Health Foundation, support groups and the NHS are there to help. In addition, Babbu offers a 24/7 helpline for parents who are struggling.
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