Judy Kynaston, National Project Manager KidsMatter Early Childhood Australia

Early childhood mental health is described as a young child’s ability to experience, regulate and express their emotions; form close and secure relationships; explore their environment and learn.  They do this is in the context of their family, community and cultural experiences. Children who have difficulty managing their emotions, exploring their surroundings and building positive relationships are more likely to experience greater challenges throughout their lives that may persist well into adulthood.


Dr Nick Kowalenko, Consultant Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

Early childhood mental health is, it’s almost surprisingly important in the early years because it’s a foundation for so much of what constitutes emotional health and social wellbeing thereafter.  It’s a really critical developmental period. So they’re moving from the world of their very intimate social relationships within their families to a much wider world and that’s where it all starts. 


Dr Sarah Mares, Consultant and Infant, Child and Family Psychiatrist

The early years set children up for the rest of their life, and there are very key experiences that children need to have early on in order for the right connections if you like, to develop, which lay the foundation for later functioning throughout childhood and into adulthood.  And so the brain grows incredibly rapidly in the first few years, and it’s quite extraordinary how much is going on in the brain in the early years.


Dr Sophie Havinghurst, Clinical Child Psychologist

So how do families and early childhood educators know when children are experiencing good mental health? I think it’s a question often about participation. So when children are doing well in terms of their mental health, they are really engaged in their environment that they’re learning.  So they start the day and you notice that the child has actually got energy.  They’re connecting.  They connect with other kids, they connect with teachers, or the educators that they’re interacting with.  And then you also notice that through the day they manage the ups and downs of things.



The early childhood years and having good mental health is a time when so many of the foundations of a child’s life are being set down.  So you want a child’s early experiences socially for example, to be ones where they can start to form friendships, they can work out how to resolve the challenges of sharing, of sharing friendships, of working together.  Those early experiences are foundations for children being able to go on and make and form good friendships as they get older. 


They’re learning about all the strong emotions they have within themselves, all the different emotions they have in themselves, the changing emotions they have within themselves, so they’re starting to make connections between their feeling inside and the language they can use to describe that.  And that process is a really critical process because it helps a child to understand in their mind and their brain, what’s happening inside in the emotional world. 


But those early experiences really lay foundations for a child’s expectations about what life will be like, and really start to foster their way of relating to people so that they are actually, they trust that teachers will look out for them and care for them and nurture their needs, and show them the joys of the things happening around them.  And I think those early years, those foundations are just really, really key for setting them up for what will happen in the next few steps.


Dr Nicole Milburn,

Clinical Psychologist and Infant Mental Health Consultant

If we’ve got a good, safe, secure environment that provides challenge and interest to a child, we can see good mental health in the child by seeing that they are open to new things without becoming too overwhelmed, that they can calm down with some help, a six-month old baby needs a lot more help than an 18-month old.  But that they can use the support of relationships to help them calm down without becoming overwhelmed. 


Dr Sophie Havinghurst, Clinical Child Psychologist

So what that means is that anything we do in the early years that actually promotes any of the different facets of children’s development, is going to have lifelong implications for their positive development and growth, but also the absence of intervention is where you often see the foundations for problems.  And the absence of intervention means that you’re missing some fantastic opportunities.  When I talk with families I always talk about the idea that if you get involved early, it’s a time when you can quite easily shift children off a pathway where they maybe were heading down, the pathway towards the mental health difficulties.  But it’s a time when a little bit of change, a little bit of tweaking in the way parents and carers and early childhood educators are working and interacting with a child, can lead to some really quite different ways that the child might react and respond. 


Catharine Hydon, Early Childhood Consultant

When early childhood educators are mindful of children’s mental health, then the decisions that they make every day, which are numerous, start to be informed by that knowledge.  So they start to be able to make a decision around routines, and arrivals, and group times, and experiences inside and outside, that have, if you like, a flavour of supporting children’s mental health.  Those decisions start to be shaped by our mindfulness of the way that children experience them through their emotions and their social interconnections, and in all of those decisions, elements of belonging start to be manifest and that means that it becomes very real for children and it becomes something that they embed into their daily practice and their daily encounter of the life that they're leading.


Anne Stonehouse, Early Childhood Consultant

It’s important for all educators in a service to understand what mental health is about, what it means, how it relates to children’s wellbeing in general.   


I think in the Service Philosophy Statement, I think it goes back to that if you take your Philosophy Statement really seriously, that it needs to be absolutely front and centre that the main concern of the service, no matter where it is, what type of service it is, is children’s mental health, the children’s well-being.