Infant & Early Childhood Mental Health
Decades of university-based research have confirmed that secure children exhibit increased empathy, greater self-esteem, better relationships with parents and peers, enhanced school readiness, and an increased capacity to handle emotions more effectively. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health
is a focus on preschoolers and assists in strengthening bonds between the child and his or her parents.
Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) is an intervention for children who have experienced at least one traumatic event and, as a result, are experiencing behavior, attachment, and/or mental health problems. The primary goal of CPP is to support and strengthen the relationship between a child and his or her parent/caregiver and to ultimately restore the child’s sense of safety.
In a very basic way, infant mental and physical health are the foundations of each new generation. Infant Mental Health has been defined in varying ways. The following examples provide current definitions of Infant Mental Health:
- According to the Infant Mental Health Services Feasibility Study conducted by CEED, the Infant mental health is the optimal growth and social-emotional, behavioral, and cognitive development of the infant in the context of the unfolding relationship between infant and parent.
- Infant mental health is rooted in the understanding that developmental outcomes emerge from infant characteristics, caregiver-infant relationships, and the environmental contexts within which infant-parent relationships take place. From an infant mental health perspective, parents are looked at as interacting participants in the developmental process, which does not permit a dichotomization of nature and nurture. Winnicott captured the essence of the caregiver-infant relationship when reflecting upon his prior comment that there was no such thing as a baby, meaning that if you set out to describe a baby, you will find you are describing a baby and someone. A baby cannot exist alone, but is essentially part of a relationship.
Play Therapy with Preschoolers
Young children can't explain verbally how things like grief, adjustment, bullying or the divorce of their parents is impacting their lives. However, they can show us through therapeutic games, toys and art supplies in a play therapy room. Play is a child's first language, as they are playing they are working through anger or anxiety or whatever the problem may be.
Every diversion in a play therapy room is carefully selected to help children express themselves. Kitchen sets allow children to be nurturing and in control. Games help older children relax and communicate. Puppets and dolls help children express their emotions. Figurines or dolls may be set up in a scene by the child to illustrate or process a current psychological situation.
Kimochis are therapeutic toys that teach children about their emotions. We have Kimochi stuffed toys, mixed feelings and illustrated books that accompany each character.
Increasingly, research confirms the efficacy of explicit training in emotional intelligence starting at a very young age. Preschoolers who participate in social-emotional skills learning exhibit less aggression and anxiety and become better social problem solvers. While these outcomes may make for a more peaceful home and classroom environment, the benefits outlive preschool: pro-social behavior in early childhood is strongly linked with future academic performance and mental health. In other words, when children learn how to calm themselves down, use language to express their feelings and treat others with kindness, they are laying the foundation for future success and wellness.
In emotionally focused play therapy we name emotions, normalize emotions and develop strategies to improve emotional regulation while playing.
How Long Does Play Therapy Take?
Each play therapy session varies in length but usually last about 30 to 50 minutes. Sessions are usually held weekly. Research suggests that it takes an average of 20 play therapy sessions to resolve the problems of the typical child referred for treatment. Of course, some children may improve much faster while more serious or ongoing problems may take longer to resolve (Carmichael, 2006; Landreth, 2002).
Nicole Story, Ed.S, M.Ed, LMFT, LMHC is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) with graduate degrees from the University of Florida in family therapy and has been counseling parents and children for over 15 years in private practice and community settings including: Hope Haven Children and Family Clinic; The Child Guidance Center; Meridian Behavioral Healthcare - Children's Outpatient Programs; The Beaches Resource Center; and as the Clinical Director of a 30 bed inpatient adolescent treatment program.
She also has supervised clinical staff at the Youth Crisis Center, Camelot Community Care, Naval Hospital, Veterans' Administration, Breakthroughs, River Region, Daniel Inc. and Family Foundations.
She is a clinical member of the Florida Association for Infant Mental Health,
FAIMH; The Theraplay Institut
e; the American Psychological Association
, APA and served as President for the Northeast Florida Association for Marriage and Family Therapy