Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How do you describe infant mental health to others?

Are you asked about infant mental health?  How do you describe it to friends and family?  How do you describe it to new families recently referred for infant mental health home visiting services?  This question came up in a few contexts this week.  The first among the seminar students at Wayne State University Merrill Palmer Institute Graduate Certificate in Infant Mental Health.  The second in preparation for a taping of at Detroit Public Television show looking at children's mental health.  Here are some of the words staff at MI-AIMH and students at Merrill Palmer have used to describe infant mental health (IMH).  We ask you to join the conversation!

  • Infant mental health recognizes both the remarkable opportunities and vulnerabilities that exist in the first three years of life. 
  • IMH professionals aim to partner with the parents and caregivers of infants and toddlers. The professional brings her knowledge of development, specifically the infant's capacity for non-verbal communication. Together with the parent's intimate knowledge of this baby, they can try to better understand what it is the baby wants them to know. 
  • Babies do remember. What happens in their world matters greatly to how they feel about themselves, their ability to relate to others, and their ability to begin Kindergarten ready to learn. 
  • The best way to help an infant is to help her parents. Compassion and support offered to new parents during the adjustment to parenthood can lead to more compassionate and nurturing responses to their baby's needs. 
  • When babies receive sensitive, nurturing care they are more likely to believe they are worthy of love as adults. They have healthier relationships and are at lower risk for engaging in dangerous behaviors such as smoking, drinking, and promiscuity. They are at lower risk for health problems such as obesity and diabetes. (ACE study, American Academy of Pediatrics) 
  • Secure relationships offer a buffer if the infant is exposed to harm or trauma. 
  • IMH is a name that is sometimes confusing or off-putting, but simply means that the very young child has the capacity to love and learn. Because babies are dependent upon the adults responsible for their care, those earliest relationship experiences are where the first schooling takes place. Therefore, the adults' capacities to see and respond to the needs expressed will teach important lessons about what the child can expect from others and himself. It is so much easier & less expensive to build on positive experiences in healthy development than to correct beliefs that come out of negative ones. 
  • Whomever spends many hours in care of an infant or toddler needs to understand that good care involves so much more than the basics (feeding, cleanliness, etc), so child care providers & relatives, in addition to parents might also need compassion and support 
  • Anyone with responsibility for making important decisions on behalf of young children, or providing support to families needs good information about development, early relationships, (etc.). IMH in Michigan - the first professional IMH organization...(you know all the things you can say about the importance of a competent workforce!)
And a quote borrowed from the Infant Massage USA Facebook page:

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
~ Frederick Douglass (1817–1895) 


  1. One way I have described my work with families is: I support babies and their caregivers in falling in love with each other. That is my ultimate goal.

  2. That's a great way to explain to families so that they understand and do not feel stigmatized by this kind of support! Helping a baby feel loved and lovable is basic to later health and functioning.
    Thanks, Faith!