For very young children, the treatment typically involves working with parents and their children together. It often includes visiting with parents at home to find out what their concerns are and to see how the young children interact with others in their home environment. This approach of observing and problem solving with parents is referred to as parent/infant/child psychotherapy. This treatment is a relationship-based approach that recognizes that the family, neighborhood, and community are critical resources for early healthy development.
A large number of states now have competencies in infant/early childhood mental health and have a process for recognizing those competencies through an “Endorsement.” Persons holding this endorsement are competent to work with families of infants and toddlers. They know how to create relationships with families, to listen to families’ concerns, and with the family work through the issues or to help the family find the kind of clinical services or therapist needed. You can find persons holding this Endorsement in home visiting programs, private practice, and some Child Guidance Clinics. Families will want to ask providers what experience and training they have specific to young children. For Connecticut families, to find a list of providers that hold specific “Endorsements” visit the Connecticut Association for Infant Mental Health’s Endorsement Registry.
Other approaches include individual play therapy or art therapy when the young child has the right language and the parent is nearby. Successful programs that include good information for parents and caregivers are: Circle of Security, Strengthening Families, Center for Social Emotional Foundation for Early Learning, and Promoting First Relationships. These are programs that focus on helping children feel safe and give them support and strategies for successful interactions with their friends at preschool or child care.
Some children with more serious disorders that impact their social relationships and emotional development may need medical intervention. Parents should know and ask questions about the use of medication. Many medications have been tested only with adults. Medication should be monitored by a child psychotherapist and in consultation with the family’s pediatrician. To learn more about the use of medication for your child’s mental health issue please see the Frequently Asked Questions on the www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com website.