We All Have Mental Health- Even Babies!

Success By 6® helped fund a survey conducted by the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research (ACCFCR) that explored “What Adults Know about Child Development.” The purpose of the survey was to identify gaps in understanding about a child’s development in order to help inform programs and services available to families with young children. The survey asked questions about the following areas of a child’s development: Physical, Cognitive, Social and Emotional.  (See below for definitions).

The results showed that many adults had an understanding of how to meet a child’s physical needs, but very few were aware of how to meet their many emotional needs. In fact, 30% of respondents answered at least half of the questions about physical development correctly as compared to less than 2% who answered at least half of the questions about emotional development correctly.  According to the Centre on the Developing Child Harvard University (CDCHU), “Early emotional development lays the foundation for later academic performance, mental health, and the capacity to form successful relationships.”

I can’t say I’m surprised at the results; as a parent to a 16 month old it is often very difficult to know how to support my son’s emotional well-being especially because he can’t yet tell me what’s wrong or how he’s feeling.  However, what I have learned is that through behaviours that start right at birth he is showing me his needs.  For instance, knowing that children have different cries for different needs and the importance of bonding through cuddling, eye-contact and touch are ways of showing and responding to emotional needs.

A report prepared in 2010 for the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative supported by the Norlien Foundation looked at “How Albertans Think About Child Mental Health.” The study found that many respondents often reasoned that children can’t experience mental health because of their lack of emotional development. However, new research shows the opposite is true, a study done by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard University found that, “Young children are capable of surprisingly deep and intense feelings of sadness (including depression), grief, anxiety, and anger (which can result in unmanageable aggression), in addition to the heights of joy and happiness for which they are better known. For some children, the preschool years mark the beginning of enduring emotional difficulties and mental-health problems that may become more severe than earlier generations of parents and clinicians ever suspected.”

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region and Success By 6® supports awareness about mental health issues by providing funding to local agencies and by helping fund new research.  The goal is help prevent mental health problems, to reduce stigma about mental illness and to help support proper treatments.

Supporting a child’s emotional development isn’t always easy and the ACCFCR survey suggests that there is a lack of information and resources available to parents and caregivers in this area.  However, as new research emerges about early brain development and the linkages between mental health, the community can begin to respond by developing new programs and services.

MENTAL HEALTH WEEK IS MAY 7-13 visit the Canadian Mental Health Association to find out more.

Angela Dorval is a Communications Specialist for Success By 6®, a community initiative managed by United Way, focused on ensuring all children from 0-6 years have the supports they need for a lifetime of healthy growth and development.


Emotional Development:  Learning to express emotions in response to events and experiences at age-appropriate level and to empathize. Learning to understand one’s own feelings and appropriate ways of expressing them.

Social Development: Learning to play and get along with others.  Showing self-confidence and being curious about the world.  Interacting successfully with others.

Physical Development: Physical development of the body including the development of both gross and fine motor skills at an age-appropriate level (ex. Sitting, crawling, walking, picking up objects).

Cognitive Development: The ability to learn and use of language.  The ability to reason, problem-solve, and organize ideas.

Resources for Families & Professionals:
Alberta Health Services - www.albertahealthservices.ca/mentalhealth.asp
Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region www.cmha-edmonton.ab.ca
Child and Youth Mental Health Information Network www.cymhin.ca


The Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research (2008). Alberta Benchmark Survey: What Adults Know About Child Development.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004).Children’s Emotional Development Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains, Working Paper 2. Center on the Developing Child Harvard University.

A Frameworks Research Report, prepared by Nat Kendall-Taylor (2010).
Kids Must Have Mental Health…But They Can’t, Can They?” How Albertans Think About Child Mental Health.  Norlien Foundation Alberta Family Wellness Initiative.