As social beings, the capacity to form and maintain relationships is essential to us and how we function within society. It is a key component to being mentally healthy, and having a positive sense of wellbeing.
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This is true for children and young people of all ages, from the very early years through to the teenage years.
The first two years of a baby’s life are crucial to their development and future mental health and wellbeing. The brain is developing and it is at its most adaptable during these early years of life. So how we interact with the child can be critical for their healthy development.
Parents and carers will have a relationship with their child, but it is the quality of the relationship that is important. A consistent and sensitive relationship is needed, to ensure that babies form a secure attachment or bond with their parents.
A securely attached child will learn that their parents/carer will comfort them when they are distressed, and they will develop a sense that they are worthy of being consoled and loved. This is essential for healthy development in the child, and will set them up for a good start in life. Children who are securely attached are better able to manage their own feelings and behaviours and better able to relate to others. This gets babies off to a good start in terms of their social development as well.
As children grow up, their ability to form and sustain relationships – be that with peers, parents, teachers etc. is crucial. Most children will naturally acquire these skills as they develop. However, there are some children who, for various reasons need some help with this.
Children’s relationships with their parents, siblings and wider family, and then of course their peers and other adults such as teachers are incredibly important. Whilst they can have a very positive impact on our mental health and wellbeing, when they aren’t good they can have a very negative impact on us. For instance poor relationships both within families and peers are a common trigger for self-harming behaviours.
We know that other issues such as bullying, or relationships difficulties between parents can have an extremely negative impact on the child’s mental health.
Relationships within families can become difficult when the child (or adult for that matter) is ill. A stressful thing for any family is when their child is seriously ill, and this is possibly even worse when a child has mental health problems.
Relationships are important on so many levels, and across the life course. But, if we can make sure that babies, children and young people are able to form and maintain positive relationships in ways that make sense to them, then this will help get them off to a good start in life and support their mental development.
This is important for children and young people themselves, but also their families, friends and the communities they live in.