Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Brain scientist have known for a long time that the first 3 years of life see unparalleled brain growth and developmental milestones. Why then is it taking the mental health field so long to catch up?
During the first 3 years of their lives we are captivated by the rapid cognitive, linguistic, motor, social and emotional skills that our children develop. From the excitement of their first words through to the challenges of their "terrible twos" quest for independence, children are quickly learning about themselves and the world around them. In the first 3 years their brain will have reached 80% of it's adult volume. Knowing this we can not undersell the importance of supporting children and parents during this foundation stage.
Understanding how receptive the brain is during this time means that the by educating new parents or soon to be parents we have the power to support children to build healthy brains. These brains are through loving attachment, evidence based parenting interventions and having their needs met.
This week I have been challenged by conversations with parents who are experiencing their own mental health concerns, have children who have experienced trauma or are identifying early behavioural challenges with their children who are feeling powerless when coming to our traditional medical systems for support. One family explained to me how many doctors they have had to see in order to feel heard about their concerns for their child. I share these families frustrations.
Many professionals are hesitant to work with families whose children fall within these age ranges for a number of reasons. I however strongly believe that effective interventions during these developmental years and parent education is key to the notion of early intervention for mental health. The style of work might look very different (focused on parent support and up-skilling and play with children targeted to build early emotional literacy) but this work, in my opinion, is no less valid. If parents can be given the tools to support their children to build healthy brains in their first 3 years their likely need for further support from a service like mine throughout their lifetime reduces significantly.
To parents of children in these age groups who are concerned. I hear you. There are other professionals who will hear you as well. Keep advocating for your children and continue learning about this incredible period of childhood.