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Resources to Support Early Childhood Mental Health

Positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development and overall family well-being. Child- and family-serving professionals play an important role in supporting early childhood mental health by connecting parents and caregivers to resources and services.

Positive mental health is essential to a child’s healthy development and overall family well-being. Child- and family-serving professionals play an important role in supporting early childhood mental health by connecting parents and caregivers to resources and services.

Children’s mental health has a direct impact on their social and emotional development.

Early childhood mental health and social-emotional development are often used synonymously and describe a child’s developing capacity to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate emotions, establish and maintain trusting relationships, and engage in problem-solving and conflict resolution. In an earlier blog post, CalTrin explored how social-emotional development occurs in the context of relationships and the vital role parents and caregivers play in nurturing this domain. Revisit that post here.

1 in 6 children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. (MMWR, 2018)

Early diagnosis and appropriate services for children and their families can make a difference in the lives of children with mental disorders. Being mentally healthy during childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Mentally healthy children have a positive quality of life and can function well at home, in school, and in their communities. (CDC)

The period of infancy and early childhood is a critical time for interventions to prevent future mental health problems. Unfortunately, families face many barriers to early childhood mental health care, including access to educational resources on mental health and development milestones; parent/caregiver reluctance to seek professional help; cost prohibitive; lack of specialized providers; long waiting lists; insurance coverage, etc.

According to ZERO TO THREE, anyone who touches the lives of babies, young children, and their families can contribute to promoting infant and early childhood mental health. The resources highlighted in this post are designed to help providers and parents/caregivers better understand early childhood mental health and social-emotional well-being, in addition to tools and guides for promoting healthy development and early intervention. 

Resources to Support Early Childhood Mental Health

California Training Institute (CalTrin)

Hey, that’s us! CalTrin has hosted several trainings on topics related to early childhood mental health, including nurturing parent and child development, parenting traumatized infants and toddlers, perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, and more. Access recordings and materials from prior trainings, and check out the calendar for future webinars and workshops! You can also explore our relevant self-paced courses and resource collections.  

Note: You will need to log in to your CalTrin account to access the self-paced courses and select archived training materials. You can create a free account here.

California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC)

Visit our partner project’s Mental Health topic area to learn about evidence-based programs and interventions, including:

California Health & Human Services Agency (CalHHS)

CalHHS provides resources to help parents, teachers, and other caregivers recognize and support children’s mental health. Explore these resources:

The California Healthy Minds, Thriving Kids Project

The California Healthy Minds, Thriving Kids Project is a series of free, evidence-based video and print resources that caregivers and educators can use to teach kids critical mental health and coping skills. This is a partnership between the state of California and the Child Mind Institute. Resources are available in both English and Spanish:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

According to the CDC, mental health in childhood means reaching developmental and emotional milestones and learning healthy social skills and how to cope when there are problems. Explore the CDC’s collection of early childhood mental health resources:

CDC Articles of Note:

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University is committed to driving science-based innovation in policy and practice. View their resource library on early childhood mental health, including:

Explore the Center’s complete Resource Library, including resources that have been translated into various languages.

First 5 California

For young children to thrive, we must support their social-emotional health—and the social-emotional health of those who care for them—in home, child care, and health care settings. Check out these resources from First 5 California:

You may also find helpful the First 5 Center for Children’s Policy’s 2021 report, Addressing Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Needs: Opportunities for Community Solutions.

Head Start │ ECLKC

Head Start and Early Head Start programs support the mental health of children, families, and staff every day. Explore the following resources:

Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Network (IECMHC)

The IECMHC Network offers no-cost infant and early childhood mental health consultation services, support, and resources for all of California’s early learning and care providers. Services offered include:

Mental Health America (MHA)

MHA‘s work is driven by its commitment to promoting mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all; early identification and intervention for those at risk; integrated care, services, and supports for those who need them; with recovery as the goal. Explore their comprehensive library of mental health resources for parents and caregivers, including:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Since mental health conditions typically begin during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, NAMI has compiled essential information and resources to help young people get the mental health support they need. Visit their Kids, Teens and Young Adults topic area. To help foster dialogue between children and the safe adults in their lives, as well as provide children a tool for helping express and explore their feelings in a fun, creative and empowering way, NAMI offers “Meet Little Monster,” a mental health coloring and activity book, available for download in six languages at no cost. Download a copy today!

Additional resources specific to California can be found via NAMI California’s Youth Mental Health Resources topic area.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIH)

According to NIH, symptoms were present for many adults with mental disorders—but often not recognized or addressed—in childhood and adolescence. For a young person with symptoms of a mental disorder, the earlier treatment is started, the more effective it can be. Learn more through these resources:

The Office of Early Childhood Development (ECD)

The Administration of Children and Families (ACF) Office of Early Childhood Development(ECD) and the federal government are committed to advancing the integration of behavioral health that support services for children and early childhood programs. The ECD has curated resource collections aimed at early childhood mental health and social and emotional development for the following audiences:

Sesame Workshop

In response to the growing mental health crisis among children, Sesame Workshop has created research-based resources to support the emotional well-being of young children and families, including:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Explore SAMHSA’s various mental health programs for children and adults, including:


ZERO TO THREE works to ensure that babies and toddlers benefit from the early connections that are critical to their well-being and development. The Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Guiding Principles were developed by ZERO TO THREE to enhance understanding and application of infant and early childhood mental health. View the 12 guiding principles here.

Discover additional resources in ZERO TO THREE’s IECMH topic area, including the article, Yes, Mental Health Includes Babies.

Additional Readings & Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics:

American Psychological Association: Children’s Mental Health is in Crisis

Child Mind Institute: 77 Children’s Books About Mental Health

Izett E, Rooney R, Prescott SL, De Palma M, & McDevitt M., 2021: Prevention of Mental Health Difficulties for Children Aged 0–3 Years: A Review

Mayo Clinic: Mental Illness in Children: Know the Signs

Pew Research Center: Parenting in America Today

Raising Children Network: Good Mental Health for Children: 3-8 Years

Shine Through: Parenting Tips to Support the Mental & Behavioral Health of Children Age 0 to 5

University of Minnesota:

Free & Confidential Support

The following free and confidential support lines are available to help parents/caregivers and youth who may be struggling:

  • The California Parent & Youth Helpline provides trained counselors who share self-calming and mindfulness techniques, help people build their support system, and connect them to weekly free online Parents Anonymous groups and other services. Parents and youth can call or text 1-855-427-2736; chat is available online. Support is available in English, Spanish, and other languages.
  • CalHope offers safe, secure, and culturally sensitive emotional support for all Californians who have experienced emotional challenges. Call or chat: 1-833-317-4673.
  • The CA Youth Crisis Line is a 24/7 statewide emergency response system for youth (ages 12-24) and families in crisis. Call or text 800-843-5200.
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline provides 24-hour free and confidential treatment referrals and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in English and Spanish. Dial 1-800-662-HELP.
    • Visit SAMHSA’s Find Help and Treatment page for additional resources. Assistance is available in multiple languages.

*Last updated September 28, 2023