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Understanding Mental Health in Early Childhood Development

Hear more from our mental health expert on why mental health is an important component of early childhood development.

Michael Gouterman May 15, 2024
  • Family Engagement
  • Health and Development
  • Blog
  • Resource

Mental health is a vital aspect of our overall well-being and serves as a strong base to navigate the ebbs and flows of our day to day lives with resiliency. But what exactly is mental health, and why is it so important in early childhood development? Our mental health expert, Michael Gouterman, shares his expert insight on understanding mental health in early childhood.

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What is mental health?

At its core, mental health encompasses social, emotional, and psychological well-being. It’s about how we think, feel, and behave, and how we navigate the world around us.

Providing safe environments for children, where they can build relationships and connections with their caregivers and loved ones, has a positive impact on their mental health. These early interactions lay the groundwork for a child to learn and feel a sense of safety and security in the world.

In these safe and nurturing environments, children begin to develop what psychologists refer to as a secure attachment which Influences how children relate to others throughout their lives.

Why is mental health important in early childhood development?

At Start Early, we know that the foundation of a child’s social and emotional competence begins forming in the prenatal relationship and continues to be laid the very first days, months, and years of life, shaped by the interactions babies have with their parents and other caring adults. Babies thrive when they are securely attached to someone special—their mother, father or other primary caregiver—who knows and responds consistently and reliably to their needs.

Mental health is a lifelong journey that is shaped by our experiences, relationships and environments. We know from research that quality programs for infants, toddlers and their families can make a significant impact on their lives, a difference that can last a lifetime.

As we embark on this journey of exploration and understanding, let’s remember that mental health is not a destination but a continuum. By nurturing our own mental well-being and supporting those around us, we have the opportunity to build a stronger world for everyone to thrive as their best selves.

About the Author

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Michael Gouterman

Mental Health Manager, Early/Head Start Network

Michael has worked in Early Childhood Education for over 12 years and is the Mental Health Manager for our Early/Head Start Network.

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