Improve Your Baby’s Mental Health with a “Good Enough” Environment

Parents and the environment they create are the foundation that shapes an infant’s mental health as well as their physical and emotional growth and development. This foundation carries on throughout childhood and into adulthood as they form their own perceptions of the world, relationships with people, communication and language skills, and emotional and behavioral development.

Infant mental health is a developmental process that’s based on a child’s inborn characteristics, such as their temperament, interactions with parents and their environment. But creating the optimal environment doesn’t need to be daunting or fancy with high-tech gadgets or top-of-the-line educational toys – it just needs to be “good enough.” A “good enough” environment is where parents respond consistently and well enough to their children. Based on these consistent responses from their parents, a child learns to expect that the world is a safe, interesting place and the people in it are responsive and kind. These positive expectations about the world will help improve a child’s life as they develop more satisfying relationships with other adults and children, learn to better handle everyday stresses and express greater curiosity and interest in learning.

3 Ways Parents Can Provide a “Good Enough” Environment

Most parents naturally give babies the attention and responsiveness they need while others may find it difficult. Here are three ways parents can provide a “good enough” environment for their infant. You can also visit the online series, Questions About Kids for more tips.

  1. Connect with your baby through touch and sound
    Connection is as important to a baby’s development as food. They need contact through touch and sound to feel secure and comfortable. Parents sometimes are afraid that if they hold their crying baby just because the baby “wants attention” it will lead to spoiling. The opposite is true. When a baby cries and a parent responds the baby learns that there is a connection and begins to associate you as a provider of care and comfort, either by hearing your voice or your footsteps, or by being held.
  2. Educate yourself about your baby’s developmental needs and stages
    The knowledge you’ll gain will help you respond to your baby’s needs when your parental “instinct” doesn’t kick in. Understanding what your child can do during different developmental stages will help you control frustrations you may have.
  3. Empathize with your baby’s feelings
    Build an emotional understanding of your baby by trying to understand an event from their point of view. Even simply acknowledging their feelings even when you don’t give in to their demands is enough of a reassurance for them. This helps your baby learn to adjust to disappointment without breaking down and helps them learn that feelings and behavior are connected.

Parenting groups, friends, family, counseling, books and articles can also help you stay connected with your child to create the environment they need to grow and develop. The important thing for parents to remember is that the smallest everyday moments are full of significant bonding and learning opportunities for both you and your baby.

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Reprinted with permission of the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED) at CEHD UMN.

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