Do babies really have mental health problems? Is it important to address a young child’s mental health early on?

I often get asked these question with great disbelief. Yes, some infants and young children (under 5 years of age) experience adverse life experiences that can negatively impact their development. While other children benefit from screening and preventative interventions before problematic patterns emerge in social-emotional, developmental, attachment, and self-regulation areas of their lives. 

Infant mental health focuses on the “healthy social and emotional development of a child…and practice devoted to the: promotion of healthy social and emotional development; prevention of mental health problems; and treatment of the mental health problems of very young children in the context of their families (Zero to Three National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, 2012)” in children birth to five years of age.

What should I look out for in my child?

Infants and Toddlers (Birth to 3 Years Old)

  • Chronic eating or sleeping difficulties
  • Inconsolable “fussiness” or irritability
  • Incessant crying with little ability to be consoled
  • Extreme upset when left with another adult
  • Inability to adapt to new situations
  • Easily startled or alarmed by routine events
  • Inability to establish relationships with other children or adults
  • Excessive hitting, biting, and pushing of other children or very withdrawn behavior
  • Shows little to no emotion at all

    Preschoolers (3 to 5 Years Old)

  • Engages in compulsive activities (e.g., play enacted in a specific order, hand washing, repeating words silently)
  • Throws wild, despairing tantrums
  • Withdrawn; shows little interest in social interaction
  • Displays repeated aggressive or impulsive behavior
  • Difficulty playing with others
  • Little or no communication; lack of language
  • Loss of earlier developmental achievements
  • Anxious and fearful in most situations

Many of the above behaviors can be typically seen in a child’s developmental path. Ask yourself these following questions to help clarify your concerns:

How severe are the behaviors? How long do the behaviors last (e.g., minutes, hours)? How many weeks or months has the behavior been occurring?

How does the behavior compare with the behavior of other children of the same age? How are the behaviors impacting the parent-child relationship?

If these behaviors lead you to be concern, please call me for further evaluation and treatment.

What does the assessment look like?

I have received training in an array of screenings and assessment methods specifically for children under 5 years of age. The majority of these tools require gathering a detailed history of the child’s development as well as observations of the child’s behaviors and interactions with their caregivers.

What will my child do in therapy?

Interventions for babies and young children primarily use a dyadic (parent and child) therapy model that help strengthen their attachment bonds and enjoyment of one another. I collaborate with parents so that they learn to identify their child’s cues during times of distress as well as times that will lead towards greater engagement. Parents will learn to strengthen their understanding of typical child development, learn and implement practical steps in parenting and child-rearing for their specific family. Interactive activities such as play, music and art activities  will be used to promote a child’s ability to form safe relationships, experience and manage their emotions, and learn the skills that will support greater learning.

You don’t have to do this alone, let me join you on this adventure…

Call me today!



Some of the above information provided was obtained from the Zero to Three website. They provide evidenced based and best practice approaches for parents, caregivers, and service providers.