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What is Infant Mental Health?

The developing capacity from birth to 3 to experience, regulate, and express emotions, form close relationships, and explore the environment and learn. This is all done in the context of family, community, and cultural expectations for young children.

It’s easy to see how attention to IMF fits with the Healthy Families America/Healthy Families New York (HFA/HFNY) model.

Who can foster good IMF?

Parents! But also child care providers, preschool teachers, Early Intervention (EI) specialists, pediatricians, Child Protective Services, college professors, state and national policy makers, judges and of course, home visitors. This is a multidisciplinary field and there is a lot of work being done.

The World Association for Infant Mental Health (WAIMH) promotes education, research, and study across the world. More than half of U.S. states have an IMH Association.

Impact and Importance of Infant Mental Health

A record number of young children are being expelled from childcare and preschool. Expulsion rates in preschool are three times higher than K-12.

Did you know?

Depression can appear in infants as early as four months of age. There has been a strong focus on kindergarten readiness. Many kindergarten teachers say the most important skills for children are the ability to get along with others, listen and follow directions Social/Emotional (S/E) development. Children who are not socially and emotionally prepared often have long-term difficulty in school.

The good news is, the brain’s openness to experience endures for a surprisingly long time. The brain has plasticity, the capacity to still be molded. There is hope!

Healthy development in early childhood helps children learn and master the skills they need to be successful in school and throughout their lives. Children who have mastered these skills are better able to:

  • Manage impulses and regulate their behavior
  • Learn to identify and begin to understand their feelings
  • Manage strong feelings and express them in appropriate ways
  • Learn to recognize feelings and emotional cues in others
  • Develop empathy
  • Make friends
  • Develop confidence, cooperativeness and the capacity to communicate

How does the HFNY model address Infant Mental Health?

Relationships. We work hard to establish healthy, trusting and nurturing relationships with parents. We support them in creating the same with their child. Relationships where a child feels cared for and protected offer the best chance for optimal growth and development, for children and parents.

We are what's now called, “trauma informed.”

We recognize that many parents in HFNY have experienced trauma and that a history of unresolved loss and traumatic life events can bring “ghosts into the nursery.” Past events can affect the relationship between the parents and the baby and get in the way of future success. Time spent playing and feeling joy helps retrain a traumatized brain that is growing and changing all the time! We focus on the parent, the child AND their relationship Every home visit centers on parents, the child, and parent-child interaction. We routinely assess how each is doing.

For more information, read our Program page and contact our Healthy Families New York-ClintonDirector, Esther Piper.



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