Infant Mental Health – It Starts on Day 1

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, July 01, 2020
By Erika Fernandez De Castro

Erika Fernandez De Castro

A little over a year ago, I attended a training on the topic of Infant Mental Health. Prior to the training, I was having a conversation with a colleague and I mentioned the topic of the upcoming training. I vividly recall her expression of surprise as she exclaimed, “Wow! I never really thought about infant mental health being an issue.” At the moment, I had to agree with her. The intrigue of the topic drew me to the training. I was curious and wanted to learn more. As we embark on the theme of the month, Purposeful Parenting, it seems fitting to address the topic of Infant Mental Health.

Father holding infant's hand

What is Infant Mental Health? According to the National Center for Clinical Infant Programs, Infant Mental Health is “how well a child develops socially and emotionally from birth to three.” The social and emotional development of an infant and child relies on the parent. The parent must be consistent with responding to the infant’s and child’s needs. Inconsistencies in the parent’s ability to respond to the infant’s and child’s needs can cause the child to experience social and emotional distress.

Environmental stressors such as parental substance abuse, difficult relationships, mental health, and/or poverty can all affect the way a parent cares for their child. Thankfully, behavioral and neuroscience have made great strides in Infant Mental Health. Studies indicate that early therapeutic interventions can help infants and children thrive and develop positive social and emotional connections. The goal of therapeutic interventions is to reduce risk factors and promote emotional wellbeing in the developing child.

Purposeful parenting is active parenting. A parent must accept early on that building a relationship of trust between a parent and child starts the moment their baby enters their life. Here are some points that all parents can consider in building a solid foundation with their infant.

  1. Secure attachment happens when a parent can manage stress and respond to the infant’s cues and successfully attend to the infant’s needs.
  2. When it comes to bonding and attachment, follow your instincts.
  3. Interacting with your infant will help you learn to read your infant’s cues and your infant will also learn to read yours.
  4. Infants create a secure attachment with the person they spend most of their time with. They can also create loving connections with others.
  5. Responding to your infant every time he or she cries will not “spoil” them. Responding to their needs with consistency will create a bond and secure attachment.

The aim of infant mental health is to establish a secure parent-child relationship. This initial relationship will affect the development of the child and their relationships with others. As we dive into the theme of Purposeful Parenting, what better place to start than from that very first moment a baby is born.

To learn more about Infant Mental Health: