Mental health is much talked about nowadays and is a major concern worldwide because it is a critical component of a person’s overall health. Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It influences our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Additionally, it influences how we respond to stress, interact with others, and make good decisions.
Mental health is important at every stage of life and that includes early childhood and adolescence to adulthood. It is even more crucial for children because early childhood is the stage where emotions are developing. Being mentally healthy in early childhood is about reaching developmental and emotional milestones, acquiring positive social skills and learning how to deal with challenges. Children who are mentally healthy enjoy a better quality of life and are able to thrive at home, at school and in their communities.
Foundations For Mental Health In Early Childhood
1. Healthy home environment
Physical activity is important to a child’s overall mental health therefore incorporating play, activity, and family interaction in early childhood are fundamental to a healthy home environment.
In modern society, it is critical to be aware of how much screen time your child is consuming. While it is crucial to show your child how to express their emotions in early childhood, parents should exercise caution when addressing sensitive family matters such as money, marital problems or serious sickness in their presence.
2. Strong relationships
Strong relationships are built through open communication, mutual respect, trust, the ability to solve problems together and affection. Healthy relationships share mutual objectives and responsibilities, acceptance and commitment.
Resilience is commonly seen because it provides the capacity to cope constructively with challenging circumstances, often as a result of nurturing strong relationships.
3. Positive self-esteem
In order to foster positive self-esteem in children, instilling a sense of safety and security during early childhood is top priority. Thereafter, encouraging their abilities and problem-solving skills will greatly boost their confidence. Love, praise, attention, and constructive guidance will help a child to develop positive self-esteem.
4. Emotional expression
Children frequently imitate adults because that is the nearest source of learning, with exposure to a myriad of different emotions, languages and coping techniques. As such, they develop greater self-awareness.
Children also need to be encouraged to express their emotions from early childhood so that they feel validated. Additionally, they require direction on self-soothing and learning to relax as well as learning that talking, walking, quiet activity and me time are all healthy responses to stressful situations.
Executive Function And Self-Regulation
Executive function refers to the capacity to focus, recall information, regulate emotional responses and behaviours as well as plan our thoughts. When children utilise these abilities to manage their behaviour in early childhood, this is called self-regulation.
For young children, executive function and self-regulation are crucial for performing a variety of tasks. They include purposeful play, sustaining attention, persevering with challenging tasks and sharing.
Self-control and executive function are crucial building blocks for success in life and in school. Toddlers experience a rapid development of these skills, which continue to grow throughout early childhood and into adulthood.
Establish clear goals, expectations and guidelines for behaviour
- Give children the opportunity to set goals and manage their own behaviour. When they are given the choice to make decisions about their behaviour within the boundaries of clear expectations and to experience the positive or negative effects of those decisions, positive behaviour results through self-regulation.
- To help children in managing their attention and acquiring effortful control, name desired behaviours and show progress toward goals.
- Reinforce certain, desired behaviours to help the children in internalising norms. When someone exhibits positive behaviour or overcomes a challenge, take note of it and rejoice.
- Play group games like “Red Light, Purple Light” or “Simon Says” that challenge children to focus, follow directions, and manage their desires. When games get harder over time or when children have to pay attention or adjust to new instructions, cognitive flexibility can develop.
Create opportunities for self-regulation through play
- Help children identify their emotions and express them in early childhood. Teach them to express their emotions with basic words like “sad,” “happy,” “angry,” or “excited,” and have them practise doing so while playing with others.
- Give your children the opportunity to play games with rules or turn-taking games. These games encourage players to self-regulate their own behaviour. During such play, peer scaffolding of self-regulation takes place frequently.
- Play along when necessary while adhering to the rules. Utilise these opportunities to extend play while expanding on the interests, abilities, knowledge, and experiences of the children. This promotes continued focus. Model through language to communicate emotions and resolve disagreements.
Seek ways to build executive function and self-regulation
- When children are having problems or facing challenges, model an example of acceptable behaviour to them while acknowledging their feelings with calmness and understanding.
- Engage children in physical activities that require both movement and thought in order to reduce stress and boost self-confidence. They include team games with physical challenges, dangerous play and obstacle courses.
- Be aware of every individual child’s emotional, physical, and learning indicators and react appropriately. As a result, it makes them feel supported, safe and secure.
Engage in learning
- Learn more about concepts like working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility that pertain to executive function and self-regulation. Recognise when children are displaying these abilities in early childhood and how they are related.
- Engage in constructive conversations and reflections with colleagues who work with different age groups so that observations can be shared on how children develop at various stages of life.
- Become curious and aware of your own executive function and self-regulation, how they are changing as an adult. You can better observe children’s learning as an early childhood educator if you are aware of your own development.
Tots & Teddies
Tots & Teddies is a multi-award winning immersive-bilingual, full-day infant care and preschool centre located in Singapore’s Central Business District (CBD). We cater to discerning parents who want the best quality care for their infants from 2 months through to children under 7 years old.
Our learning environments are created carefully around your child so they feel safe, secure, fun and are able to respond freely. The environments help to spark curiosity and creativity in your child, invite exploration, manipulation and a sense of discovery.
The classrooms have been designed to support your child’s character development through our thematic inquiry-based curriculum. Additionally, we feature a semi-open classroom concept where children from different age groups can socialise and learn from one another.
To ensure the holistic development of your child, bi-weekly trips to Children’s Park at Gardens By The Bay are provided at no additional charge to parents. Alternatively, they also get to explore Art Playscape which is located at National Gallery Singapore.
Parents play a critical role in their children’s lives so we partner closely with them to enhance the children’s learning. Daily updates are sent via our digital app, phone calls and email. We also invite parents to participate regularly in the children’s activities and hold half-yearly parents-teachers meetings as well as at our year-end open house.
In summary, the home environment is the most important place to guide children in self-regulating their emotions besides school. Children model after their parents therefore it is crucial to engage them through purposeful play and encourage them to express their emotions via healthy ways.
Validation is important to children. Love, praise, attention, leading by example, setting clear expectations, goals and guidelines for behaviour help children to develop positive self-esteem which is fundamental to success in school and in life.