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Early Childhood Mental Health Is Like Eating Your Veggies

When people think mental health, sometimes they think of scary things. Some people think about mental illness that you see on TV, or they think that something is seriously wrong with their child, or that mental health professionals want to medicate their child after taking one look at them. Many times, parents are afraid that the mental health professional is judging them. They may think “Wait! Are you saying my child’s problem is all my fault? I’m not a bad parent!” The truth is, early childhood mental health is not scary at all.

For young children, good mental health is the same as having good social and emotional skills. Social skills consist of forming healthy relationships with trusted adults and other kids, and include behaviors like making and keeping friends, learning how to wait and take turns, being respectful of and getting along with others, having a healthy self-concept, and using kind words when they want something. Emotional skills are behaviors like expressing feelings in appropriate ways, being able to solve problems, being able to handle frustration, and learning how to cope with difficult feelings.

Social and emotional skills are really important pieces of a child’s development. These skills help them to be ready for learning in school when they go on to kindergarten, go to college, and find and keep good jobs. Social and emotional development has been found to be one of several strong predictors of future success in school and even graduating from college! These are “soft skills” that help a child grow into healthy, happy adults who function well in communities in which they live.

Developing good mental health is a similar process to developing good physical health. That means that — just as your children need to do things like get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat their veggies to have good physical health — they also need to learn how to make and keep friends, express their emotions in acceptable ways, and solve problems in order to have good mental health. Having good mental health is simply a part of being healthy. Parents, guardians, caregivers and teachers can help prepare children now, so they can be successful later in life while they’re in school. Helping children develop good mental health will make it more likely that they will go to college, get good jobs and keep them.

– by Marci Masters, Master Trainer and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant