CHS Blog

Mental Health in Young Children

Mental Health in Young Children
Posted on May 24, 2017 by CHS

Early Childhood Mental Health refers to the social, emotional, and behavioral well-being of children. Children with positive mental health feel better about themselves, can manage their feelings, problem solve, are prepared to learn, and can have satisfying relationships with others.

Parents and educators can support the mental health of young children by forming positive relationships with them, role-modeling socially appropriate behaviors, teaching them to identify and label emotions, and helping them learn to manage stress. Positive relationships are built over time from infancy forward. Positive relationships show a child that they are safe, cared for, and loved.

Tips for Building Positive Relationships and Good Mental Health

  • Meet the basic needs of infants and young children promptly and tell them what you are doing. “I hear you crying and I know you are hungry. I am getting your bottle now.” The sound of your voice is reassuring and lets them know that you see they have a need.
  • Set reasonable behavior limits to keep children safe. When you need to remind a child about limits, include the reason for it. “I need you to hold my hand while we cross the street so I can keep you safe from the cars. This is a safety rule.” This lets children know that you are dedicated to protecting them.
  • When you say you will do something, follow through and do it. This shows children that you are trustworthy.
  • When your infant or child is doing something great, let them know. Be specific with your praise so they understand what they did right. “Thank you for picking up the toys and putting them where they go.”
  • Schedule time to simply enjoy being together. Take a walk, play in the park, or cuddle up with a book. Make eye contact with your child as you hug him and talk to him.
  • Be an active listener. Listen to your child when she speaks to you, even when you don’t understand what she is saying. As she gets older, continue the active listening and avoid making statements that are judgmental. Children need to know that their thoughts and opinions matter.
  • Learn to manage your own emotions. Children are very sensitive to the moods of adults. If you speak in a louder voice because you are frustrated with the events of your day, your child may believe that she is the reason why you are upset. Express your feelings openly so your child can learn from you. “I apologize for using an angry voice. My day did not go the way I thought it would and I feel frustrated. Give me a minute to take a few breaths and calm down.”

Build Emotional Literacy

  • Help children build their emotional literacy by labeling emotions and reading books that explain feelings or discuss how to relax. Visit your local public library and check out the following books:
    • Lots of Feelings by Shelley Rotner (Ages 3-6)
    • My Face Book by Star Bright Books (Ages 0-4)
    • Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Maclean (Ages 4-8)
    • Sea Otter Cove (A Relaxation Story) by Lori Lite (Ages 4-11)
    • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain (Ages 3-8)
  • Teach Children how to relax and manage stress. You can teach them breathing techniques like Butterfly Breathing.
  • Encourage your child to build friendships with other children.

Know When Your Child Needs Help

Sometimes children need extra help with managing their emotions, social skills, or behavior. Learn to spot the signs of possible emotional or mental issues. These signs can include:

  • Long, intense, and frequent tantrums (lasting more than 30 minutes)
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeding problems
  • Failure to Thrive: Your child does not seem to be growing as he should
  • Frequent aggressive or defiant behaviors
  • Regular impulsive or hyper-active behaviors
  • Child is unusually quiet or uninterested in others
  • Child seems sad most of the time
  • Child seems fearful or afraid often
  • Child chooses to take risks that put her in danger

If your child needs help, seek advice from your doctor. The doctor will be able to guide you in addressing what your child needs. You will find additional resources to support your child’s mental health below.

References and Additional Resources

Sign up for CHS updates
Areas of Interest


Children’s Home Society of California’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service have changed. Click here to learn more.