Why to refer
From the time of conception to the first day of kindergarten, development proceeds at a pace exceeding that of any subsequent stage of life. It is during this time that the brain undergoes its most dramatic growth, and children acquire the ability to think, speak, learn and reason. Early experiences can and do influence the physical architecture of the brain, literally shaping the neural connections in an infant’s developing brain.
The field of infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) focuses on the optimal development of very young children. We work to understand the particular child and his or her challenges through the lens of early development, individual differences and close relationships with parents and other caregivers.
Here are a few examples of the circumstances we work with;
- A 4-month-old cries excessively every day but his doctor says he is medically fine. Still, the parents are feeling confused, ineffective and isolated and are have moments of resenting and avoiding the baby. A Cooper House therapist works with the parents to understand and empathize with their experience. She then works collaboratively with parents to read baby’s cues and build parents’ capacity to manage their intense feelings while continuing to find ways to soothe baby and help him feel more comfortable and regulated.
- A 2 ½ year-old sobs inconsolably at daycare drop-off and then is withdrawn and irritable with care providers who would console her. She and her mother have just moved across the country to escape a violent domestic situation. With a stressed and preoccupied mother, this little girl’s own trauma needs recognition and careful attention. We meet with mother and child, using simple play themes to help the girl make sense of her scary experiences. We would also support mother in understanding the depth of her daughter’s fears, and in showing and telling her little girl that she is safe now.
- A four-year-old is struggling to get along with peers: he is sometimes intrusive and sometimes preoccupied with his own private play themes. His teachers need support dealing with his sensory integration and motor planning challenges, and his parents, who have always let him have “his way” to avoid conflict, need guidance in setting predictable limits, while the child himself could benefit from therapy to address his anxiety and controlling behaviors.
Early childhood social and emotional development is firmly tied to every other area of growth and development—physical growth and health, communication and language development, and cognitive skills, as well as the child’s early relationships. If young children do not achieve early social and emotional milestones that are linked to positive early childhood mental health, they will not do well in the early school years and subsequently, are at higher risk for school failure, juvenile delinquency, and a variety of other problems later in life.
If you would like to learn more about the importance of intervention in the early years, click here.