Welcome to the Early Childhood Mental Health Network of the Upper Valley website.
The first three years of life create the foundation for lifelong mental health. If you don’t know – or have concerns about your child’s development – or you have questions – or just want more information – Reach Out. Trust your intuition! Any of the ECMHNetwork members are a good place to start. And click on any of the items below for more information about that issue.
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EARLY CHILDHOOD MENTAL HEALTH RECOGNIZES THAT:
After years of controversy, neuroscience research now documents the tremendous influence of early experience on brain development. The human brain, only 1/4 its full size at birth, grows to 80% of adult size by age 3, and to 90% by age 5. This explosion in brain development largely consists of branching dendrites that vastly increase communication between the neurons, leading to an amazingly complex network of inter-connections, interconnections that result from learning. During the first 18 months, the most rapid brain development occurs in the regions responsible for handling feelings and nonverbal communication - the non-conscious foundation of mental health. These very brain regions are powerfully shaped by early social experience, as the baby’s brain becomes organized through emotional interactions with its caregivers. Even the expression of genetic inheritance is influenced by these interactions.
Infancy and early childhood, therefore, present both tremendous opportunity and vulnerability. The opportunity is that parents can help their children develop a life-long foundation for mental health. And parents can help children compensate for biological challenges. (There is strong and consistent evidence that caregiving, more than biological risk from pregnancy and birth, most powerfully influences how well children do.) The vulnerability occurs because parents may feel this responsibility is a heavy burden. In addition, impressionable young brains are especially vulnerable to stress, even when children are “too little to remember”. The good news, however, is that young children and their parents do respond to early help.Infants often express emotional pain through physical symptoms like digestive illness or failure to thrive. Likewise, chronic stress, including attachment problems, damages the immune, cardiovascular, and stress response systems and can lead to life-long physical vulnerabilities. Emotional wellbeing supports physical health; promoting child health, and identifying and treating problems, requires the collaboration of pediatricians and mental health providers.Some times young children show signs of autism, hyperactivity, depression or anxiety. Parents may be reluctant to recognize these troubles, hoping they’ll be outgrown and hoping to avoid the pain of having a “disabled” child. But it’s best to confront the trouble and act early. Early action often keeps troubles from becoming entrenched. Even autism can respond to intensive early treatment. Young minds can change dramatically, and so can the parent-child relationship, as parents better understand their child and their own reactions.
EARLY CHILDHOOD MENTAL HEALTH IS FOSTERED BY:
Each baby has a unique nervous system, the “hardwiring” he or she will use to deal with inner tensions, with people, and with the world. This “biological hardware” has developed as genetic endowment interacts with prenatal experience and will change throughout the lifespan.
Recognizing your baby’s unique reactions helps your baby feel understood and keeps tensions at a manageable level. For example, you the parent can ask yourself:
- Which sensations (sounds, sights, smells, textures) please my baby? Which sensations are challenging?
- How does my baby tell me when stimulation is “too much”?
- What helps my baby feel soothed and calm?
Babies with challenges - for example, visual or hearing impairments or poor muscle control - have extra frustrations and tensions to manage. So do their parents, because they must handle their own feelings about the gap between the baby they expected and the baby they actually have.Babies are born speaking the language of emotion. When parents think about their baby’s feelings, and speak this language back, their baby feels understood, connected, and safe - a need as basic as the need for food. This emotional safety teaches children that parents are a safe harbor, trusted protectors who bring relief from the tensions of hunger, cold and isolation. When children feel a safe connection - a secure attachment - they have more energy available to learn about their world. And they learn to flexibly handle feelings, transforming tensions and distress into security and well-being.Babies and, especially, toddlers are eager to do things themselves. Parental support for this autonomy helps children learn to do what parents used to do for them. As children develop their own skills (for example, calming when upset, going to sleep, feeding and dressing, restraining impulses, or taking turns), they draw upon firm, predictable parental teaching. Through this steady guidance, children build their own strong mental structures, and the crucial self-control that goes hand in hand with strong minds.Parents need time to relax and re-fuel for the demanding job of parenting. Protecting time for adult relationships is one way to re-fuel. But that’s not easy to do when new parents are swamped by the endless needs of their baby and their own unexpected feelings. And their other children need help to manage jealousy and fears that they will be forgotten. Under all these strains, successful marriages can falter. In fact, two-thirds of couples report a drop in marital satisfaction after the birth of a child. Talking honestly with your partner, and getting consultation if needed, can help couples re-connect.Parents buffer their children from the stress of the wider world. But when adult stress mounts, when parents face insecurity about their own livelihoods, the job of providing emotional security to their children becomes overwhelming. Assuring community support for families with young children promotes early childhood mental health.
The Early Childhood Mental Health Network of the Upper Valley website address is www.ecmhn.org
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Or call us at 603-448-6311.
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ECMHN expresses great appreciation to Ted Bergeron who created this website.