Develop children’s emotional health

Published 8:47 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

Column: Kim Nelson, Guest Column

May is Children’s Mental Health month in Freeborn County. Many people might be wondering why a child care center director is writing an article about children’s mental health. I would like to give you a little different perspective.

Kim Nelson

In early childhood education, it is very important that children acquire and maintain strong social and emotional development. Children birth to 5 can be given several opportunities to learn and grow socially and emotionally.

Some of these opportunities come from providers, educators and the community, but most importantly from their parents or guardians. Some tips to parents of infants for promoting social and emotional development include: talking to them with a soothing voice, using simple language, listen to and respond to sounds your child makes and imitate them, and allow your child to actively explore their environment.

As children get older, parents can continue to promote social and emotional development through routine tasks like toilet training, dressing and eating. Parents can encourage children to do these tasks on their own to gain self-confidence. Parents should also remember to praise their children at any age when they have achieved the desired outcome. Positive reinforcement is very important to the development of all children.

You may ask why social and emotional development are important at an early age. The Department of Human Services states “90 percent of a child’s brain development happens before the age of 5.”

Because of this, children who are exposed to it will learn and retain conflict-resolution skills, self-help skills, problem-solving skills and self-soothing skills.

Children can only be fully prepared for kindergarten if they have these skills. Kindergarten teachers have expressed how vital strong social and emotional skills are to the success of children in school. Teachers who have seen children who have been exposed to opportunities in developing their social and emotional skills have had more success in their first year of school then those who have not developed those skills. Parents or guardians again play a very important role in the success of their children.

From personal experience I would like to share successes that I have had in the hopes that it will help other parents. I believe that there are four major factors in promoting children’s mental health:

• I believe it is important to make faith be your family’s focus; worship together, volunteer together and pray together.

• Parents or guardians should be intentional about including early care and education birth to 5.

• Families should set a goal to eat as many meals together as possible. Families are very busy these days but sitting down for a meal encourages conversation and sense of support.

• My family sets aside family night, which could include game night, movie night, going on the bike trail together or gardening together. We enjoy this time, and it promotes feelings of belonging and accomplishment.

The Minnesota Thrive Initiative says: “What happens in the early years affects the course of development across one’s life span.”

Kim Nelson is the executive director of The Children’s Center in Albert Lea.