Children Matter: the Importance of Early Mental Health

in Blog
October 4, 2017

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A child’s brain undergoes massive change and growth, especially from birth to age three—in fact, millions of neural connections are being produced each second in a baby’s brain. Affection, playing games, reading, and the simple act of feeding a child establishes connections that build stronger, healthier brains.

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Early experiences affect the development of brain architecture, which provides the foundation for all future learning, behavior, and health. Brains are built over time, from the bottom up. (Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University)

The simple act of holding a baby supports development by offering sensory nourishment. Research tells us, too, that the conversations, songs, and stories a caregiver has with a baby in its first two years of life nurtures verbal intelligence as well as emotional growth. Interactions with babies are much like a tennis game—what we call “Serve and Return” – and create the emotional and cognitive skills children need to learn to succeed in life. The positive and nurturing experiences a child has during this time determine the architecture of the brain and helps them build skills in problem-solving, communication, self-control, and relationships. (Developing Child, Harvard).

It is our shared responsibility to create a strong, innovative, and prosperous society by addressing problems early and keeping our children healthy of mind and body. The early years matter—if a child experiences events or situations that are abusive, disruptive, or unstable, that “toxic stress” can damage the young brain. When we provide high-quality childhood programs and strong parenting guidance, we can solve problems early, which is far less costly to society, individuals, and families. (FrameWorks Institute, 2009).

Five primary concepts drive what we know today about child development: Brain Architecture, Toxic Stress, Resilience, Serve and Return, and Executive Function and Self-Regulation. To learn more about these, the importance of early childhood mental health and education, and how capable children become the foundation of a prosperous and sustainable society, check out the Center of the Developing Child (Harvard University) and watch “Child Development, Part 4. “Pay Now or Pay Later.”

Preventing mental health problems and thus a stronger society depend on promoting health social and emotional development for all children and supporting those who care for them. North Range believes that it is the role of all of us in the community to support efforts to identify, assess, and intervene as early as possible to advance early children mental and emotional health.

Janis Pottorff, LCSW
Program Director, Family Connects
North Range Behavioral Health