Don't be scared off by the term Infant Toddler Mental Health. Too often when people think of "mental health", they only think of someone needing services or counseling, that something is wrong with the person. Obviously one can not "counsel" or "treat" an infant or toddler since they won't sit in a chair and talk about their issues. Rather the term mental health means that the person is capable of handing emotions, has positive psychological wellbeing, and has adjusted to the "demands of society" and the ordinary demands of life.
Zero To Three defines infant/toddler mental health as " the young child's capacity to experience, regulate and express emotions, form close and secure relationships; and explore the environment and learn. All of these capacities will best be accomplished within the context of the caregiving environment that includes family, community and cultural expectations for young children. Developing these capacities is synonymous with healthy social and emotional development."
This type of description can bewilder us. What if we break down that statement?
Look at the phrase "experience, regulate and express emotions". How do we help a child do this? Consider that a child has to learn to identify feelings. He/she also needs to find out what is allowed for expressing those emotions-is it okay to bite someone when they are angry. How can they learn the appropriate way to express this anger? They need to learn these strategies from their caregivers, whether parents or other caregivers. The child will learn from the adult how to handle these emotions, usually based on how the adult handles the emotion.
Now look at the phrase "Form close and secure relationships". Understanding how a child does this is essential. What are the key ingredients for this capacity? This includes trust that their needs will be met and that they will be loved. When they feel secure then they are able to explore their environment more confidently. A child learns by having the opportunity to explore their environment in a safe manner.One can not stress enough the importance of cultural expectations. We come from many different backgrounds and cultures and each has their own belief system in their expectations for children. We need to respect cultural values regarding children.