Relationships and good mental health for babies and toddlers
A warm and responsive relationship with you directly and positively affects your child’s mental health.
The key to building a positive relationship with your child is consistently and warmly responding to your child’s needs for food, comfort, sleep, attention and so on.
Baby and toddler cues can often tell you what your child needs. But it’s OK if you’re not sure. The most important thing is that your child knows you’re always there for them, because this helps them feel safe and secure.
Ideas for promoting good baby mental health through relationships
Just be with your baby. Take time to watch your baby, regularly touch and cuddle your baby, make eye contact and smile at your baby. This helps you get to know each other and build your bond.
Regularly spend time together doing things you and your baby enjoy. For example, go for a walk outside, meet other babies and parents, and listen to music together.
Soothe your baby’s crying calmly and consistently.
Talk to your baby warmly and gently as often as you can. It doesn’t really matter what you talk about – just describing what you’re doing together is fine.
Tune in to your baby’s interests. For example, if baby shows you Teddy, you could say ‘Yes, it’s Teddy. Is Teddy having a cuddle?’
Be gentle with your baby when you’re interacting or handling them.
Adapt your parenting to your baby’s temperament, as you start to understand more about your baby.
Ideas for promoting good toddler mental health through relationships
Give your toddler plenty of positive attention. This can be as simple as getting down to your toddler’s level when they show you something in the sandpit.
Use a positive, constructive and consistent approach to guide your toddler’s behaviour. This includes giving your toddler praise when they’re behaving well.
Tell your toddler that you love them. You can also show love through your body language and nonverbal communication – for example, by making eye contact, giving a hug or smiling at your child.
Respond to your toddler’s attempts to communicate. For example, if your toddler points to a toy, you could say,‘Do you want the truck?’
Label your toddler’s emotions. This helps your toddler learn about emotions and how to manage them. It can also help your toddler feel understood.
Help your toddler learn to manage their behaviour and reactions. You can do this by using clear rules to guide your child in challenging situations and praising them when they follow the rules.
Good physical health is important for mental health. You can help your child stay physically fit and well by encouraging them to eat well, helping them get enough sleep, and giving them plenty of opportunities for physical activity.
Play and good mental health for babies and toddlers
Play is important for your child’s mental health and wellbeing. This is because play helps babies and toddlers:
feel loved, happy and safe
develop self-esteem and confidence
build relationships and learn about caring for others
develop social skills, language and communication skills
develop well overall.
Play ideas for promoting good mental health in babies and toddlers
Follow your child’s lead in play. This sends the message that what your child is interested in is important to you.
When playing with your child, help only if your child needs it. For example, you can hold a toy while your child puts the pieces in it. This gives your child a sense of achievement and builds their confidence.
Use play to help your child express and learn about emotions. Play ideas to develop emotions include puppet play, singing songs and nursery rhymes and messy play.
Read and share stories with your child. Reading promotes brain development and imagination, develops language and emotions, and strengthens relationships.
Give your child plenty of opportunities to play outside. Your child can explore the natural environment, test their physical limits, express themselves and build self-confidence.
Give your child opportunities to learn about and practise sharing, especially as they move into the toddler years. Taking turns and sharing while playing with blocks is a great way to start developing this important social skill.
A safe environment and good mental health for babies and toddlers
A safe and predictable environment helps babies and toddlers feel safe, secure and looked after. This is important for developing good mental health.
Ideas for creating a safe environment that promotes good baby and child mental health
Have routines. Routines create predictability in your family life. For young babies, it’s best to balance routines with responsiveness. As children get older, you can create routines for different times of the day, including bedtime routines.
Make sure your home is safe. You can make a safe but creative environment for your child to play and explore in by supervising your child and looking for risks.
Try to keep conflict with your partner away from your child. If your child sees kind and respectful relationships around them, your child feels safe and secure. They also learn to be kind and respectful with others.
Looking after yourself: why it’s important to children’s mental health
Looking after yourself helps you stay physically, mentally and emotionally well. This is good for you, and it’s also very important for your child. When you’re well, you’re better able to give your child the warmth, care and attention they need to grow and thrive.
Looking after yourself includes:
eating well and doing some exercise
trying to get enough rest
making time for things you enjoy
keeping up with old friends or making new ones
watching out for and managing stress, anxiety and anger
getting support from family, friends, your community and support services.