Baby & Child Mental Health

Having a healthy and nurturing relationship with your child lays the foundation for their social and emotional development. Unfortunately, many physical and mental health concerns have roots traceable to experiences occurring in infancy and early childhood. Creating a healthy and loving environment for your child can substantially decrease the chance of future physical and mental health disorders in your child's adulthood.

How Early Childhood Experiences Affect Lifelong Health and Learning

In this short animated video, narrated by Center on the Developing Child Director Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., learn how early experiences affect not only early learning and school readiness but also lifelong physical and mental health.

InBrief: Early Childhood Mental Health

Science tells us that the foundations of sound mental health are built early in life. Early experiences—including children’s relationships with parents, caregivers, relatives, teachers, and peers—interact with genes to shape the architecture of the developing brain.

Why It's Important to Monitor Your Child's Mental Health

During infancy, your child's brain is developing rapidly and the foundation for how they will learn, relate to others, and manage and express emotions is being laid. It's important to monitor your child's mental health status, know what influences it, and understand the warning signs that your child might be struggling in some way.
Family looking at tablet smiling

What a Child Needs to Thrive

Children need to feel safe, loved, valued, and stable in their home environment in order to thrive in their growth and development.
A child's mental health is intertwined with their parents' mental health. Parents and caregivers should be aware of their mental health to make sure their children develope in a healthy environment.
The five pillars of attachment can help you raise your child in a healthy, loving manner.

The 5 Pillars of Attachment

Attachment is the science of love, or more specifically, the emotional bond that forms between child and caregiver, and it is the means by which your child gets their primary needs met.

A Sense of Felt Safety

Your child will experience a sense of felt safety if you or a caregiver can consistently respond to your child's emotions, needs, and wants.

A Sense of Being Seen and Known

Being attuned to when your child experiences intense emotions and letting them relax when they are feeling relaxed is important when providing your child with a sense of being seen and known.

The Experience of Felt Comfort

Providing a feeling of comfort for your child over time will help them develop the capacity for representational thinking. This means they will be able to carry a representation of that felt comfort experience inside themselves.

A Sense of Being Valued

When your child can count on you to show delight in who they are, they feel valued and the experience of feeling valuable emerges. When you express delight in not just what your child does, but who they are, they develop self-esteem.

Fostering Self Development

Giving your child support to explore, discover, succeed, and fail develops the best and most unique sense of self within them. Your child will feel encouraged to try new things and won't feel pressured to succeed at everything while they develop themselves.

"The more healthy relationships a child has, the more likely [they] will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love." - Bruce D. Perry

Health Consequences of ACEs

Trauma experienced during childhood, also known as ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences), can have a lasting impact on your child's physical and mental health and well-being later on in their life.


Physical health conditions associated with ACEs include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Asthma
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Substance use disorders, including alcohol use disorder and cigarette smoking


Mental well-being is said to decline as the number of ACEs goes up. The following are all associated with ACEs:

  • Behavioral and emotional dysregulation
  • Depressive disorder and anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Simple Stress Busters to Keep Calm

Don't worry, there are things you can do to support yourself so you can be there for your child and give them the loving and supportive environment they need to thrive.

Take a deep breath and count to 10. Breathe in and out slowly and deeply. Deep breathing can help oxygenate your blood and clear your mind when stressed.

Take a Walk

A brisk walk can knock out stress and improve your mood.

Listen to Music

Music can do wonders to relieve stress. Whether you would rather listen to pop, country, or rock, your favorite music can help you feel good and de-stress.

Call a Friend

Talking to a friend is always a good way to de-stress. Pick up the phone and talk it out with a trusted friend.

Cuddle with a Pet

A pet’s soothing presence is a great stress reliever. If you take your dog for a walk, you can get the stress-relieving benefits of exercise too.

Take a Nap

Taking a short 20-minute nap has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, which aids in stress relief. Grab a pillow and hit the hay.

When we have the courage creativity, compassion and commitment to address the root causes of these pervasive health and social inequities, (ACE’s), we take an essential step closer to realizing a world in which everyone is afforded opportunities to reach their full potential and thrive.

— The California Surgeon General’s Report on Adverse Childhood Experiences, Toxic Stress, and Health – Roadmap for Resilience

Local Resources
General Resources
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
  • California Child Abuse Reporting: 24-hour hotlines for reporting child abuse or neglect in each county.
  • First 5 California: Emotional Health Page


  • Trauma Resource Institute: Community Resilience Model
  • ACE’s Aware
  • First 5 California: Nadine Burke Harris: How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime
  • Center on the Developing Child: How Early Childhood Experiences Affect Lifelong Health and Learning