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The importance of relationships

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Jessica House, M.A., R.P., Manager, Crossroads Children's Centre

More and more of our young children are facing mental health challenges.  We know that these challenges often begin developing in early childhood.  As caregivers, we want to know what we can do to protect our children from mental health challenges and how we can support the healthy development of our little ones from birth. 

The importance of relationships

It is through relationships that all skills are built.  Early experiences with our children shape the structure of their brain.  Through interactions with the caregivers in their lives, children learn about themselves and how to relate socially, behaviourally and emotionally with others.  By doing what we can to improve the relationships a young child has early in life, we can set the stage for preventing later mental health difficulties.

Here are a few things we can do to strengthen our relationships and to support the social and emotional development of our young children:

1)      Provide a secure and loving home.  Develop routines in your home that are predictable and comforting for you and your family.  Having a loving, calm environment for you and your family will allow your child to feel safe and will set the stage for learning and development.

2)      Interact with your infant/young child.  Sounds simple enough. Just like a game of tennis, where you serve the ball to the person you are playing with, and they then respond by returning the ball back to you, caregivers and their young children engage in back and forth communication that is fundamental in building the brain.  This is called serve and return.  When a baby babbles and coos (the serve), the caregiver acknowledges the baby and responds back (return).  The baby's facial expressions, babbles and gestures all act as "serves" for which the caregiver responds in a purposeful, meaningful way.  This key component of the caregiver-child relationship builds the emotional and cognitive skills required later in life. 

3)      Comfort your infant/young child during times of stress.  How we interpret and respond to the feelings our child is experiencing has a major impact on their emotional development.  When your child is stressed (i.e., ill, hungry, emotionally upset, frightened, uncomfortable, etc.), responding in a timely, sensitive and consistent manner will make your child feel safe.  Over time, infants and young children learn to anticipate caregiver responses, which influences experiences and relationships they have later on in life.

4)      Take care of yourself.  Parenting can be challenging.  It is so important that we take care of ourselves so that we can care for our little ones.  Be kind to yourself, ask for help when needed, practice self-care. 

If you would like more information:

  • Speak with a Public Health Nurse. Call the Ottawa Public Health Info Line (OPHIL) at 613-PARENTS [613-727-3687]  (TTY: 613-580-9656) or email Ottawa Public Health at ParentinginOttawa@ottawa.ca