Mental Health

Early childhood mental health is a child's (birth to 5 years) growing ability to experience, regulate, and express emotions. They learn to develop close, secure relationships with peers and caring adults. Children begin to explore and learn from their surroundings, pay attention, and follow directions. Early childhood mental health is the same as social-emotional development. Head Start and Early Head Start programs partner with local professionals and other programs to ensure children, families, and staff have access to prevention and intervention services.

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Promoting Social and Emotional Development

two kids playing in school

A child's security, happiness, and health begin at birth. Nurturing and caring relationships form the foundation for healthy development. Social-emotional development is enhanced by caring environments and intentional supports by trained adults. Learn more about how to help children and families with this important topic.

Screening and Assessment

a teacher helps a young girl with a puzzle

Head Start requires that children's social and emotional development is screened and assessed within 45 days of the start of the program year. Identifying children's strengths and challenges is the first step to providing an individualized program to support positive behavior. Health managers and other program staff may use the following resources to better understand social-emotional screening and assessment strategies.

Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

four adults meet and plan

There is growing concern that increasing numbers of very young children are manifesting behavior problems. Early childhood mental health consultation (ECMHC) is an effective strategy for addressing these challenging behaviors. It also is used to support young children's social-emotional development in early childhood education settings. Use the tools and resources below when designing and implementing effective mental health services for families.

Challenging Behaviors and Child Mental Health Concerns

a sombre young girl sitting alone

Challenging behaviors may include hitting, biting, scratching, screaming, and taking toys away from others. Challenging behaviors may also include withdrawn behavior such not talking to other children, not engaging with peers or adults, or not knowing how to play with peers. It can be difficult to identify the right strategies to support children who demonstrate these behaviors. When staff and parents learn about effective strategies to respond to challenging behavior, children are more likely to have positive relationships and successful experiences in school. Find out more about child mental health concerns and strategies to effectively respond to challenging behaviors.


Children and families across the country experience traumatic events on a daily basis. Head Start and Early Head Start staff has an important role after traumatic events. They can offer support to help reduce stress and encourage children’s’ and families’ resilience. Discover ways to identify and help children and families who have experienced trauma.

Education Activities

hands holding a paper cutout of a family

New staff and families may have a negative view of the term "mental health." Head Start programs can reduce the stigma of mental health by providing educational activities that help them understand mental health. Use the following resources to support a rich understanding of mental health and social-emotional development.

Adult Mental Health

a sad looking woman

Head Start and Early Head Start programs recognize the importance of nurturing families and staff who work with young children. When programs implement strong systems and policies that support healthy work environments, staff are better able to support families. Explore resources and tools that offer strategies designed to help caregivers deliver services that support the emotional well-being of adults.

Policies and Procedures

a caregiver holding a smiling boy

Programs are required to develop, implement, evaluate, and revise policies and procedures that ensure comprehensive mental health services for children, families, and staff. Find resources to assist in understanding and meeting those requirements.

Professional Development

These professional development suites are intended to support ongoing learning and reflection about relevant mental health topics. They can be used by mental health consultants, technical assistance providers, and other facilitators familiar with the topic. Each suite includes a PowerPoint with embedded notes and additional resources to support the topic.

Last Reviewed: February 2017

Last Updated: May 11, 2017