Positive mental health in children involves “prevention thinking” and the use of “care practices” based on new research and theory in developmental psychology. Forward thinking childcare providers, early childhood educators and infant mental health specialists now all recognize that children require the same kind of foundational and relational experiences during the first five years of life. Children with positive mental health are also strong and capable learners—these two things go hand-in-hand.
Positive mental health emphasizes social and emotional development as the foundation upon which all social and academic learning takes place. It also emphasizes the role of primary caregivers in establishing children’s patterns of behavior, relationships and learning.
The Importance of Early Caregivers & Caregiving
Interactions between early caregivers, parental or professional, set the developmental trajectory of each child. They contribute to their development in either growth-promoting or growth-inhibiting ways.
Positive mental health and early learning develop simultaneously within the context of nurturing early relationships. The heart of positive mental health is about the social emotional connections that children need to fully develop. Children who experience heartful, empathic interactions with adult caregivers grow into heartful empathic adults. Only then are they are able to become self-reflective, think critically, and function effectively in today’s changing world.
Cognitive Learning Theory and Mental Health Theory Merge
Children’s mental health specialists and early childhood educators now find themselves drawing from the same pool of research, theory and practices. Both recognize psychological development as the foundation upon which all social and cognitive learning takes place.
The gap between developmental psychology and educational psychology has closed, and professionals in these two fields find themselves expressing virtually the same ideas and thoughts, but in different languages. Even the language barrier is beginning to dissolve, as professionals find themselves finding a common language based on quantum biology and physics.
Professionals now accept that infant learning and mental health overlap, influence and build on one another. They also recognize how primary caregivers play a critical role in the development of nurturing early relationships, and in the early learning that takes place in children age birth to five years.