What is Early Childhood Mental Health?

“Early childhood mental health is the capacity of the child from birth to age five to experience, regulate and express emotions; form close and secure interpersonal relationships; and explore the environment and learn. Infant mental health refers to how these issues affect development in the first three years of life. Early childhood mental health is synonymous with healthy social and emotional development.” (Zero to Three Police Center Fact Sheet, May 18, 2004)

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What is Early Childhood Mental Health?

“Early childhood mental health is, first of all, about establishing a secure relationship between a child and his or her parents. It is also about emotional regulation, which starts very early. It may start as sensory regulation, meaning regulation to touch, sights and sounds. Some children are over or under reactive to sensory stimulation. Concurrent with emotional regulation is the ability to regulate behavior and to symbolize, for example, to use language, which gives a child a way to mediate between his or her impulse life and behavior. The ability to relate to people outside of the immediate attachment system is another dimension of early childhood mental. We have to learn to socialize, to relate to adults and peers. It’s not just the ability to become attached, it’s the ability to explore and move toward autonomy, self-sufficiency, and individuation. Coping is also a critical part of mental health, for example, developing capacities for managing frustration. Again, this is related to the ability to regulate.”

Gilbert M. Foley, EdD,
Clinical Director, NYCCD
Early Childhood Mental Health Program,
Editor, Mental Health in Early Intervention,
Achieving Unity in Principles and Practice

“Childhood mental health is the foundation. Everything else – speech, cognition, attention, learning – is built upon it. If the emotional foundation is not there, children are not able to do the other things as well.”

Beth Kastner, PhD,
Psychologist, NYCCD
Early Childhood Mental Health Program

Out of respect for the privacy of our children, the photos on this website are not of children in our programs.