19th February 2024 All Posts

Mental Health in Early Education: Insights and Guidance

Male practitioner and young boy engage in role-play, promoting mental health in early years.

In January, the Department for Health and Social Care released new guidance titled “Improving the mental health of babies, children and young people,” highlighting children’s mental health and its profound impact on them across their lifespan. This guidance outlines the critical role played by early childhood experiences in shaping mental health outcomes, emphasising the pivotal 1001 days from conception to age two as a period of significant influence.

As early years educators and childcare professionals, it’s important to understand that every child’s journey is unique, shaped by many factors ranging from family circumstances to environmental influences like access to nature. The guidance serves as a compass, guiding us through the landscape of children’s mental health, and helping to recognise and address potential risks during sensitive developmental periods.

In this blog, we’ve explored some of the key factors that can significantly influence children’s mental health during their formative years. To read more on supporting children’s mental health and promoting holistic wellbeing, we encourage you to explore the comprehensive guidance provided throughout the blog.

Guidance for mental health in early years

Early years professionals play a crucial role in shaping children’s mental health and capacity for future learning. Stay informed by reading the recent guidance.

Improving the mental health of babies, children and young people:

A framework of modifiable factors to guide the promotion of good mental health in babies, children and young people.

This includes three documents that: 

  • highlights the wide range of modifiable factors that interact to influence the mental health of babies, children and young people (BCYP), summarising them in a framework.
  • conveys opportunities across the BCYP life course to both promote and minimise risks to the mental health of BCYP.
  • provides information on activities being taken across government that positively impact the mental health of BCYP.

Mental health for early years children:

Get information and guidance on how to support babies and young children with their mental health. This article was written by the Department for Education (DfE) in consultation with a team of early years experts and senior health professionals, including NHS England and the National Children’s Bureau.

This article has many links to different documents that can help support children’s mental health that you could start using in your early years setting straight away.

How secure attachments can affect children’s mental health

Research from the guidance underscores the role of secure attachments in developing healthy development during a child’s early years. These bonds, built by trust, warmth, and responsiveness, serve as the foundation on which a child’s mental health and wellbeing are built.

Secure attachments encourage children to explore and grow, giving them the confidence to navigate their world with resilience and curiosity. Through consistent and sensitive caregiving, parents and caregivers create a secure base from which children can venture, knowing they have a supportive presence to return to in times of need.

Secure attachments lay the groundwork for healthy social, and emotional development, enabling children to form trusting relationships, regulate their emotions, and navigate social interactions with confidence and empathy. These early experiences shape the way children perceive themselves and others, influencing their ability to form healthy relationships throughout their lives.

The benefits of secure attachments extend beyond early education, influencing long-term mental health outcomes. Research indicates that children who experience secure attachments are more likely to exhibit resilience in the face of adversity, form healthy relationships, and experience overall wellbeing. 

How mental health can affect speech, language and communication abilities

From expressing our deepest emotions to forging meaningful connections, the power of speech, language, and communication abilities cannot be overlooked. Children who struggle with language and communication difficulties may face many challenges with social interaction. From articulating their thoughts and emotions to difficulties in understanding communication, these problems can negatively affect their developmental journey.

Research has also shown that children with vocabulary difficulties at the age of 5 are three times more likely to encounter mental health problems in adulthood. This statistic reveals the links between language development and mental wellbeing, highlighting the profound implications of early intervention and support.

How physical health can affect children’s mental health

Children and young people with poor physical health, particularly long-term conditions, face a heightened risk of encountering mental health challenges. 

Physical activity plays an important role in protecting mental health and decreasing symptoms of mental health difficulties like depression. The Active Lives Children and Young People Survey, conducted in 2022, highlights the transformative power of physical activity in nurturing mental resilience and wellbeing. Higher levels of engagement in sports and physical activities are associated with decreased feelings of loneliness and enhanced self-reported happiness scores. 

Supporting a child’s good physical health, development and nutrition is vital for their mental health. A healthy, balanced diet is essential for children, especially in the vital early years when they are going through a period of rapid growth and development as they learn more and explore different foods. We caught up with Louise Mercieca – a nutritional therapist and owner of The Health Kick – to share her expertise around child nutrition. You can catch up on the blog here

In conclusion, the journey of supporting children’s mental health in their early years is profoundly impactful. By understanding the role of secure attachments, the interplay between language development and mental wellbeing, and the importance of physical health, we equip ourselves with invaluable insights to create nurturing environments where children play, learn and develop their mental wellbeing. 

You can download our ‘15 Mental Health Activities For Childrenhere.

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About the Author

Content Marketing Executive at Connect Childcare