Supporting Infant Mental Health (babies and under 5s)
If you're worried about your under 5's mental health, here is our advice and information on where you can get help.
What should I look out for?
Your relationship with your child has a significant impact on the successful development of that child's mental health.
Babies do not exhibit the classic symptoms of mental illness and disorder, but babies do demonstrate through, for example, poor sleep patterns, difficulties with feeding, restlessness and gastric disturbance, that they are anxious and tense, distressed or fearful. You can support your child by finding parenting strategies which work for you, and by responding to your child's emotions with love and empathy.
Here are three things to be aware of:
Sleep issues are common and sometimes become problematic. Parents may find it difficult to settle their child, or their child might wake sometimes or frequently during the night. Young children may have nightmares or be anxious about going to sleep. If you are concerned, contact your health visitor or GP.
The amount of sleep needed gradually decreases from infancy to adulthood. Every child is different, but as a rule of thumb:
- Toddlers need about 12-14 hours’ sleep (incl. daytime naps)
- Pre-schoolers (aged 3-5) need 11-12 hours’ sleep
2. Toilet training
Children will generally be fully toilet trained during the day and night between the ages of two and five years old.
If your child reaches the age of six and is still regularly wetting the bed or starts to wet the bed after a period of being dry (e.g. for six months) you should seek advice.
Outbursts of screaming, crying, shouting, kicking, hitting, biting and throwing things are common in children between the ages of one and four years old as they are still learning to deal with their emotions.
If the tantrums are getting you down, or when they occur too often or for too long, with the child hurting themselves of others, seek advice from your health visitor, school or GP.
How can I help my child?
These are things that can really make a difference:
- Stick to routines, be consistent, have together-time, involve the family so that everyone takes the same approach, be clear, be calm, discipline in a fair way, be positive about good behaviour and champion successes.
- If you feel you would benefit from them, find out about local parenting advice or courses. They can be invaluable for building confidence, learning ways of coping and meeting other parents.
- Your local council may have details of organisations in your community that can give families help and support.
- Be kind to yourself and take care of your own wellbeing – talking to others is invaluable.
- When emotions run high, always remember that you are the adult in the situation, and you are in charge of your small child, not the other way around!
- Seek advice if your concerns continue over a period of weeks. Contact your health visitor, GP or child's school.
- When any aspect of your child’s daily routine (sleep, eating, toilet training, tantrums) become an overwhelming problem, continue for too long or significantly affect their life or your family life, it is worth considering possible reasons or underlying difficulties, such as:
- Lack of attention from parents
- Lack of boundaries and rules
- Learning difficulties
- Hearing problems
- Food sensitivities
Where can I get help?
- Supports families where there is at least one child under the age of five, offering home visits, family groups and social events
- Phone: 0800 068 6368 or 0116 464 5490
Email: [email protected]
- Support for families with excessively crying, sleepless and demanding babies.
Helpline: 08451 228 669 (Daily 09:00 – 22:00)
- Email: [email protected]
Eric (Education and Resources for Improving Childhood Continence)
- Support for children, parents and professionals who deal with childhood continence issues – potty training, bedwetting, daytime wetting, constipation and soiling.
- Helpline: 0845 370 8008 (Mon – Thu 10:00-14:00). Charges apply.
- Email: [email protected]
- Keeping under-fives safe online.
- Top tips for parents on what you need to know, how to guide your young child, where to go for help
- Online parenting organisation made up of local sites that cover the UK, each site offering parenting information to parents/carers following through each stage of childhood.
- Barnardo’s provides a range of services to children, young people and families in UK.