When We Don’t Address Mental Health in Young Children

By: Blythe Keeler Robinson, President and CEO, Sheltering Arms for Saporta Report

It’s never too late to “embrace early.” From the moment a baby is born, the brain fires off billions of neurological connections.  Everything that baby experiences, or is exposed to, will lay the foundation for future learning and development. 

While positive experiences promote strong emotional health, negative ones can have serious lifelong consequences.

Our society is concerned about the overall well-being of our community’s children – and should be – but one thing we don’t take into consideration nearly enough is their mental health.

Data from the National Survey of Children’s Health shows that Pre-K children are expelled at three times the rate as K-12 students for exhibiting challenging behaviors. We know that, often, those behavioral issues are part of a much larger problem. Family circumstances such as domestic violence, neglect, substance abuse or long-term poverty produce toxic stress, which damages brain connections and eventually impairs school readiness, the ability to learn and achieve in school, and the ability to relate to others.

Studies have shown that young children who do not reach certain social-emotional development milestones in their early years are not likely to perform well in school and are at higher risk for juvenile delinquency later in life.

The good news, however, is that when these challenges are identified and addressed early on, the effects can be mitigated and children can move toward a brighter future. 

For parents and childcare providers, that means giving babies and young children a safe, nurturing environment where they can live, grow and learn. At Sheltering Arms, our family support and other team members that focus on the needs of the parents to help them overcome challenges that may contribute to their inability to provide a stable and healthy environment. We also equip staff with resources and professional development on topics like mental health first aid, violence prevention, trauma informed care and stress management. 

ZERO TO THREE, a national organization committed to informing policymakers on how we can improve the lives of infants and toddlers, urges them to take an active role in promoting the continuum of services that prevent and treat mental health issues. 

As a society, we must make it a priority to invest and embrace early in supporting the emotional health of babies and young children. It will yield benefits later. Our children deserve it.