Location: Bradley Hospital

Raising Mentally Healthy Babies and Toddlers

Have you wondered about mental health in infants, toddlers and preschoolers and how problems are treated? According to a team of experts at Bradley Hospital, the field of early childhood mental health goes well beyond diagnosing and treating mental health disorders in young children. The larger issue is how to promote the healthy development and future well-being of very young children.


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When a family is dealing with an infant, toddler, or preschooler with behavioral, emotional, and/or developmental difficulties, Bradley Hospital's mental health professionals are here to help, offering direct clinical services to these young children. However, Bradley staff are also experts in the prevention of mental health problems in young children. According to Susan Dickstein, PhD, director of the Early Childhood Clinical Research Center at Bradley Hospital, "the good news is that early, preventive interventions that target positive parenting strategies and support both families and community-based caregivers can promote early childhood mental health, even for those children considered at risk."

Infants and young children depend on nurturing and secure relationships to help them grow and thrive. Early childhood mental health is defined by experts as the capacity of very young children to experience, regulate and express emotions; to form close and secure relationships with caregivers and peers; to explore and experience the world around them; and to learn. According to Dickstein, "Young children do best when their care-giving environments are stable and predictable and when they have close relationships that provide love, security and encouragement. Also, promoting strengths within the family environment, such as helping families maintain regular daily routines, may in fact buffer the child from the adverse impact of some risk factors."

For many years, Bradley Hospital child psychologists have provided early childhood mental health consultation services to Rhode Island Head Start and Early Head Start programs, child care centers, and other community agencies serving high-risk infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families. Bradley Hospital's Early Childhood Clinical Research Center is closely involved in a number of statewide programs, partnerships and initiatives aimed at providing early childhood mental health preventive interventions and community-based consultation. The center's goal is to ensure that young children experiencing emotional, behavioral or cognitive difficulties are identified early and receive mental health care before problems develop or become more serious.

By helping families provide young children with a loving, secure environment in which they are free to explore and develop, Bradley Hospital is working to ensure that children have a solid start in life and the best opportunity for lifelong mental and emotional health.