Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation

Shari* was just three years old when her behaviors in her Head Start classroom began to regress and her challenging behaviors escalated. Her dedicated, experienced teacher began to tighten her classroom management skills, which had worked in the past, to address the behaviors. This time, however, the behavior continued to escalate, and both staff and Shari’s mother were at the end of their ropes.

A mental health referral occurred, and working with the family advocate and mom, we were able to discover that although she was still so very young, Shari and her family had experienced several traumatic losses as well as exposure to domestic violence. The mental health consultant recognized that what the teacher was classifying as challenging behavior in this child was likely a trauma response.

Although initially skeptical, after listening to the latest information on brain research and trauma, the teacher quickly embraced a new approach based on principles of attachment and teaching self-regulation. Working with the parent, who was also receptive to the information, a plan was implemented to support Shari at home and at school.

The process took several months, but Shari was able to successfully remain in the classroom and today is again on track with her development. Her teacher described the process of working with the consultant, “At first I thought what she was explaining I could try in my classroom seemed crazy, but then as I learned more I realized it made sense, and more importantly, when nothing else was working, what she suggested worked and helped this child. I could not have done this without the consultant’s support.”

*names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.

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