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Welcome to the 5 Things Digest from the NTTAC Infant and Early Childhood Transformation Team, bringing you 5 Things to know right now about infant and early childhood mental health in the time of COVID-19.
#1: Supporting Child and Family Well-Being During COVID-19
Every family has been touched by COVID in some way. It may be through illness or even loss of a loved one; stress resulting from changes in routines for work, school, childcare, and home; or the economic impact of COVID-19 on jobs and businesses. Staying at home and social distancing from friends and family can compound stress and have a negative impact on the emotional well-being of children and their parents/caregivers. Understanding these stressors in developmentally appropriate ways and adapting daily routines can ease some of the tension and anxiety while fostering a safe and nurturing home environment for young children. Parenting is difficult under the best of circumstances. There are resources to help support children and their families during and beyond this pandemic.

This is a great resource that provides relevant information about COVID 19 as well as strategies for preparedness to support the reduction of stress and anxiety. Also available in Spanish: Guía de ayuda para padres y cuidadores para ayudar a las familias a enfrentar la enfermedad Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).

This resource describes how young children, school-age children react to traumatic events, and how adults can help and support their coping.

#2: Support for Child Care Provider Well-Being During COVID-19

COVID-19 greatly disrupted the child care sector, in some cases requiring programs to adhere to stricter guidelines, lower the number of children served, or close temporarily or permanently. Additional challenges include the exacerbation of existing staffing shortages in the early childhood education and care sector and increased challenges for families affording care. Child care is an essential service and prioritizing the well-being of the system, programs, and providers is critical to our national recovery. Resources and supports that may help meet the need of child care programs and staff include:

Financial assistance to child care providers can alleviate their stress and improve their well-being. This help also increases the likelihood that programs can continue to operate and offer their essential services to the families in their communities. Some states are offering financial assistance to child care providers.   

Navigating stricter health and safety regulations might feel stressful or overwhelming, particularly during this time. Learn about existing flexibility for administering child care subsidies on this page.

If you are in a management position at a child care program, consider how you can support staff wellness and reduce burn out. Continue offering opportunities for professional development and team building. Think about how you can help your staff engage in a self-care routine that works for them. Now is also a great time to think about how you can find someone in the community to offer a virtual or socially distanced yoga or meditation class as part of your next staff development day.

Self-care tips from the Mayo Clinic.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) curated resources to tackle stress and compassion fatigue in early education and care programs.
#3: Supporting Preventative Health Services for Young Children During COVID-19

Thinking about health, wellness, and safety is on the forefront of most people’s minds right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed emphasis on prevention (mask wearing, social distancing, knowing the signs and symptoms of COVID-19) and intervention (knowing when to get tested, how and when to quarantine, how to best treat symptoms of COVID-19 if infected). As we think about health and safety, it is important to remember that young children experience huge developmental, cognitive, and physical growth between ages 0-5. Staying up-to-date on well-child visits and vaccine schedules not only supports future health: it can also support identification of areas where additional intervention may be needed.

Well-child visits are essential to the well-being of young children. These preventative visits track growth and development, offer a place to raise any concerns, and can support referrals. The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a comprehensive health guide for when well-child visits should occur. Current recommendations from the AAP are that all children should be going to well-child visits (virtually or in person) during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Young children grow at an astronomical rate. Knowing key milestones for children 0-5 years of age can support caregivers in promoting wellness for their children. If a caregiver has a concern about developmental milestones, they should reach out to their pediatrician. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides resources on tracking developmental milestones for young children from birth to 5 years, so families and providers can monitor how infants, toddlers, and young children are playing, learning, communicating, acting and moving.

Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent childhood diseases in the United States. Babies at young as 6 months old can experience tooth decay. Proper oral health can support a young child’s health. Creating positive oral health skills and routines early on is the foundation for a lifetime of good oral health.
#4: Supporting Young Children Through Play During COVID-19

Young children need safe, secure, and nurturing relationships to thrive. Right now, many families are experiencing a heightened level of stress and anxiety, or living with loss. Having a supportive child-parent or caregiver relationship can help young children cope with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. Building and maintaining strong relationships with young children during challenging times can help to buffer the impacts of stress and support resiliency for the whole family.

Finding ways to connect and support one another is imperative to well-being right now. Sesame Workshop has created a great caregiver workshop to reflect and support care, coping, and connection within a family. Check out the interactive activities, videos, and strategies here.

Seeking comfort from family and friends during stressful times is a great opportunity to learn new skills to cope with uncomfortable feelings. Offering and receiving comfort in reciprocal ways also supports healthy child-caregiver relationships which can mitigate the impacts of stress. This video can be watched by the whole family, followed by this great activity about the importance and benefits of hugs.

This resource and illustrated story from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) helps young children and families talk about their experiences and feelings related to COVID-19 and quarantine. It is provided in several languages, including Spanish, Simplified Chinese, and Mandarin.
#5: Supporting Conversations Between Young Children and Caregivers During COVID-19

Young children learn through play. Promoting play throughout the day offers infants and young children opportunities to learn important social emotional skills, pre-academic skills, and life skills. At a time when many children are not able to interact with peers as they once did or at all, finding opportunities for families to engage in play is essential for a young child’s well-being and development. It’s also fun! Here are some ideas of how to promote play with young children.

Get up and get moving! Dancing is a great way to promote playful fun with infants, toddlers, and young children. Movement offers opportunities to practice gross motor skills, listening, and following directions. It also offers a way to use extra energy during these cold months.

Sesame workshop offers a variety of resources to promote pretend play, building play, word play, physical play, and others.  
Playing with infants is foundational to healthy growth and development.  There are many different ways to play and interact with babies, such as offering everyday objects to look, making daily routines fun, and reading books together. 
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Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and content expressed in this email do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).