Infant Toddler Mental Health Best Practices

Tania Sharmin at OTAC Conference

Our very own Tania Sharmin, Para Los Niños (PLN) Occupational Therapist, presented at the Occupational Therapy Association of California (OTAC) Conference in Sacramento last October. She presented on best practice in infant mental health and her work at PLN. Her presentation focused on the parent-child and teacher-child centered model that we promote at PLN Mental Health and how effective these approaches are to increase our children’s self-regulation skills.

To understand the frameworks/models presented attendees need to have a working knowledge regarding the CNS and ANS and their influence on regulation and behavior in children.

Learning Objectives:
1. Demonstrate family-centered care as the cornerstone of services for young children and families including assisting families to identify and address their concerns, priorities, and resources.
2. Articulate the unique strengths of three infant/toddler mental health approaches.
3. Apply an infant/toddler mental health treatment framework to create an occupational therapy plan of care.

Parent-child attachment is foundational in infant/toddler mental health. Infants and toddlers with disabilities are at risk for attachment issues. As early interventionists, occupational therapists are well situated to support attachment, mutual regulation, and rupture and repair between caregiver and the infant or toddler (Sparrow, 2013). The culture of each family is highly variable with many multidirectional and intersecting relationships (Dickstein, 2015). Families are increasingly diverse including single parent, multi-generational, same-sex, and non-partnered co-parenting households. The influence of culture on child rearing is well established and therefore it is extremely important and vital for occupational therapists to understand how to partner with all families. Lawlor and Mattingly (2014) noted the power of working through the family system as it strengthens partnerships that support family life and the quality of engagement, empowering families to work on behalf of the child.

In addition to family approaches, there are many evidence-based approaches that address infant-toddler mental health. Speakers will additionally present information regarding relationship-based approaches and the Neuro-relational Framework. Through structured group discussions, videos, examples of occupational therapists utilizing frameworks in clinical settings, and case application attendees will increase their knowledge and use of infant and toddler mental health frameworks. Using an infant mental health framework, the occupational therapist can positively influence growth and development of infants and young children.

1.Dickstein, S. (2015). The family couch. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 24(3), 487-500.
2. Lawlor, M.C. & Mattingly, C. (2014). Family perspectives on occupation, health, and disability. In B. Schell, G. Gillen & M. Scaffa (Eds.) Willard & Spackman’s Occupational Therapy (12th ed., pp. 149-162). Philadelphia, PA: Lippencott Williams & Wilkins
3. Lillas, C. & Turnbull, J. (2009). Infant/child mental health early intervention, and relationship-based therapies: A neurorelational framework for interdisciplinary practice. NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
4. Sparrow, J. (2013). Newborn behavior, parent-infant interaction, and developmental change processes: Research roots of developmental, relational, and systems-theory-based practice. Journal of Child and Psychiatric Nursing, 26, 180-185.