Infants & Brain Development
According to mental health experts, both nature and nurture play a role in human development, and a child’s young brain responds to rich experiences, particularly in the first years of life. Good nutrition, positive mental stimulation in the form of toys, playmates, reading & music, and interaction with parents and caregivers all play important roles in healthy brain development.
What can you do to give your child the best possible start in life?
- Create a safe, secure home environment for your baby
- Cuddle and love your child daily – you cannot spoil them with hugs
- Interact with your baby: put a toy just out of reach and encourage your baby to crawl after it
- Encourage your baby to play with toys appropriate for his age group
- Read to your child
- Sing songs and let him hear the sound of your voice
- Have a childproof cupboard for baby – keep a few safe playthings inside like wooden spoons, plastic containers, and small towels. Crawling babies will like climbing in and out of the cupboard.
- Play with your child – big, open boxes make fun tunnels to crawl through when taped together and they are inexpensive, often free toys.
- Large balls are easiest for kids to kick. Roll a ball slowly towards your child and encourage her to kick it towards you – great for 2-4 yr. olds.
- “Simon Says” is a fun game to help kids follow directions and try different types of moving. Have a good time and be silly with your kids. It’s also a good way to get a child who doesn’t want to go along to be more cooperative (great for ages 3-5)
- Play with different shapes, colors, and textures – helps develops young minds.
- Explore how things fit together and come apart.
Children, Adolescents, & Mental Health
Children of all ages can experience mental health problems. One in five children and adolescents, and one in ten teenagers may have a mental health problem at any given time. Almost two-thirds of all young people with mental health problems are not getting the help they need. Without help, these problems can lead to school failure, substance use, or family trouble. Exposure to violence, death, physical or sexual abuse, or neglect may lead to mental health problems in children. A child’s age, developmental stage, and ability to communicate can make it difficult to distinguish between a mental health problem and natural development.
Some illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, mood disorders and schizophrenia, can occur in adults as well as children. Others, such as behavior and developmental disorders, elimination disorders, and learning and communication disorders, begin in childhood only, although they can continue into adulthood. It is not unusual for a child to have more than one disorder.
What are some symptoms of mental illness in children or adolescents?
Symptoms vary but may include:
- Poor academic performance at school
- Fights constantly
- Worries all the time, sometimes about inappropriate subjects for children such as death or natural disasters
- Patterns of repetitive activity, and these actions interfere with school, sleep, or appetite
- Never laughs or smiles
- Difficulty making friends because of aggressive or frightening behavior
- Doesn’t listen to instructions
- Drug or alcohol use
- Child-like behavior which should have been outgrown, like clinging, wetting, or toilet accidents
- Sexual behavior that is more than normal curiosity
- Plays with fire
- Intentionally hurts or is cruel to pets or other animals
- Hears voices or sees things that aren’t there
This information is provided to parents as a general guide, and is not meant to diagnose a specific condition or mental illness. Parents should seek advice of a medical professional, therapist, clinician, or counselor if they have specific health care questions or concerns.