How to prepare your child for a lifetime of positive mental health: 0–5 years
Lay the foundation in this period of growth and learning.
From the first smile and first step to experiencing a whole range of emotions, your child is passing many important childhood milestones.
This is a time of growth and learning and an ideal time to start supporting your child’s mental well-being.
Laying the foundations for a happy and healthy life
Your child looks to you for love, learning and safety. Try to spend as much quality time together as possible. Fostering a warm and tender relationship, and helping your child feel safe and cared for, go a long way to laying the groundwork for a lifetime of good mental health.
Spending quality time with your child is good for both of you. It even releases natural hormones that help you bond with your baby and enhance well-being for both of you!
- Play with them, cuddle them.
- Talk to them, sing to them.
- Respond to their sounds with words so they can begin to understand language and communication.
As your child starts to move around more, their desire to explore is increasing. This curiosity needs nurturing and encouragement.
- Read to your child (every day if you can).
- Play games that engage their curiosity and learning.
- Ask your child to name things – start with their name and objects around them, keep it simple.
- Explore the surroundings outside your home together.
As your child grows more independent and curious, they will want to explore the world outside and learn about the things around them. Interactions with people will help them develop their own ways of thinking and understand the world around them.
- Encourage social interaction through play with other children.
- Invite them to help you with simple age-appropriate chores. Guide them through steps to solve simple problems.
- Set clear boundaries and realistic expectations. Follow up ‘No’ with alternatives for what you would prefer them to do instead.
- Provide them with clear choices that are easy for them to understand when making decisions on what to eat, wear or play.
What to look out for
Young children are learning how to express themselves and manage big emotions. This can sometimes cause anger or stress when they cannot communicate their needs. When children feel stressed or overwhelmed, they need a loving adult to help reassure them and help them to navigate their feelings.
- Any form of violence, including shouting and hitting. When a child lives in a negative environment it can cause “toxic stress” – harming the child’s growth and development – as well as long term problems in later life.
- Frequent arguments between parents and people around the child. Tension in the environment can be stressful for children – they may feel neglected, powerless and vulnerable.
- Any form of neglect. Children need consistent attention, love and care for their healthy growth and development.
Remember: Take care of yourself as well
Whether you are a parent of a baby or toddler, you will experience a wide range of emotions at different times – this is normal. Emotions include joy, frustration, fatigue and nervousness. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, take time to manage your own stress.
- Make sure you’ve got good social support around you. Try to have some alone time, so you can have some space for yourself.
- Remember to invest in enough sleep, healthy food and physical activity.
Some form of stress is something every new parent experiences, but don’t be afraid to ask for support, and take time to look after your own needs.