Handle with Care: Strategies for Promoting the Mental Health of Young Children in Community Based Child Care


Prepared by the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Hincks-Dellcrest Centre, the Handle with Care booklet explores ways for the mental health of young children to promoted in community-based child care centres. While this resource is based on information and research collected from 81 Canadian child care centres, many of the findings and recommendations are relevant to the work of family resource and parent support programs, specifically those in which staff take on a caring role (child minding, etc).

The booklet starts by looking at the development of trust between practitioner and child. As secure attachments provide an important foundation for promoting mental health, practitioners can form secure relationships with children by rapidly responding to children who are distressed, providing predictable routines and responses, creating a safe environment, taking an active interest in children, and letting children know that they are there for them. The booklet is careful to point out how building trust varies amongst the ages of children in child care settings and includes communicating and building relationships with parents.

The booklet moves on to provide key examples and ideas for building self esteem for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, as well as information on expressing both positive and negative emotions.

Handle with Care also talks about dealing with challenges, and how practitioners must provide opportunities and feedback for children to safely try new activities and to assert themselves. This includes guiding children through problem solving so that they develop the skills to cope with and resolve their own problems.

The booklet covers other hot topics for practitioners such as helping children develop relationships with each other; respecting the diversity of each child/family and how this leads to mental health promotion; helping children cope, adapt and successfully recover from transitions within their families and at the centre; building and sustaining positive relationships with parents; and how practitioners may structure the environment in ways that promote mental health for the children.

Finally, Handle with Care takes the time to discuss the well-being of the practitioners themselves and how this has a direct impact on the children in their care. From scheduling regular meetings to implementing communication books and establishing positive working conditions, ensuring that each centre or program has a staff team that feels supported and engaged within the centre directly impacts the mental health promotion of the children. This includes offering professional development and training opportunities to the staff team.

Filled with direct examples from 81 different child care centres across Canada, Handle with Care provides a solid roadmap for ensuring that the centre/program is structured in a way that promotes the mental health of the children, staff and families. Your team could tackle one section at a time during your team meetings to reflect on what you’re already doing and ways in which you could improve your mental health promotion strategies.

Download the Handle With Care booklet, or visit the Canadian Mental Health Association for more information.