It is well-established that a person’s childhood has a significant impact on the rest of their life. This holds especially true when it comes to mental health. In early childhood, the brain is still growing. In the first five years of a child’s life, the brain is developing faster than at any other time in their life. Consider these early years as a sort of ‘programming’ for your brain.

The environment that a person is born into and their experiences throughout their early years can literally change the makeup of their brain.

It’s not just about learning to walk and talk – it also includes managing social interactions and developing emotional intelligence (such as empathy). If babies and young children experience trauma and neglect at a young age, the stress response can be activated far more often than it should be. This can cause damage to both mental and physical wellbeing. The importance of being well nurtured through these early years cannot be overstated.

“Every person who's walked through my office door suffering from depression, anxiety, relationship or work problems, low self-esteem or addiction has a history of some type of adversity in their childhood,” says psychiatrist Marcia Sirota.

“Whether we're dealing with a child who seems mostly well-adjusted in the moment, or one who's begun to exhibit signs of more significant dysfunction, those of us in the helping fields want to do everything we can to optimise the child's emotional and psychological wellbeing so as to prevent future problems.”

If a child is feeling anxious or stressed, they need to feel like they can tell a parent, guardian or loved one. Likewise, if they are going through a traumatic experience like bullying, they need to feel they can tell someone. And if they are behaving erratically they need someone who will notice and take action, enlisting the help of a professional if need be.

Children must feel that they can speak and just as importantly, they need someone who will listen to them. For more information on helping a child through tough times, our Healthy Families website is a fantastic resource.

“Children should be seen and not heard”

Nobody knows for sure who uttered this phrase first but one thing is for sure – it certainly caught on! It’s a saying many of us would have heard growing up. Some of you may have even said it to your own kids. And whilst it might be used in a light-hearted way most of the time, it’s a phrase that couldn’t be further from the mark.

Children have so much to offer the world. In many ways, adults can actually learn a lot from children. Here are just five of them:

  • Unbridled enthusiasm. In the mind of a child, life is an adventure to be explored. Each day should be met with passion and a desire to embrace new experiences.
  • It’s OK to ask for help. The support of a parent or guardian is essential for young kids. They need help and generally don’t hesitate in asking for it. Adults can be a lot more hesitant to embrace their vulnerability and seek support when needed.
  • Accepting emotions and letting them show. If a child is sad, angry, confused, happy or tired – chances are they’ll let you know about it. Bottling up emotions doesn’t help anyone.
  • Be more curious. Children have a hunger to learn. They also have no hesitation in asking questions to find out things they don’t know. Curiosity feeds knowledge but it also builds empathy and forces us to listen. It should be a lifelong trait.
  • Don’t judge. As author Charles Swindoll famously said, “Prejudice is a learned trait. You’re not born prejudiced; you’re taught it.”
Related reading: The rhythm of healthy relationships

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