Emerging Minds

Keeping the infant and toddler in mind

About the course

This course will provide you with an introduction to a relationship-based framework that promotes the mental health of children aged 0–5 years. The course describes three interrelated practice positions to reflect upon when working with infants, toddlers and families.1

From the ally position, you will focus on joining with parents to form a trusting alliance. You will also work to understand the psychosocial factors that influence the developing parent-child relationship and the child’s mental health.

From the advocate position, you will observe and gain an understanding of brain development, cues for connection, play and developmental transitions during the infant and toddler stages.  

The third position, awareness of relationship, specifically focuses on the parent-child relationship. It asks you to consider the understandings gained by interchanging between the ally and advocate positions. These reflections can then help to guide you during curious conversations about the developing parent-child relationship.1

When thinking about infant mental health, it’s vital to understand and acknowledge the significance of intergenerational trauma and mental health. For a more comprehensive exploration of intergenerational mental health, check out the following Emerging Minds online courses:

This course, Keeping the infant and toddler in mind, compliments the Emerging Minds foundation course, Building blocks for children’s social and emotional wellbeing.

Who is this course for?

This course is for anyone who works with infants, toddlers and families. It invites practitioners to broaden their working context from being solely adult-focused or solely infant-focused, to consider the whole family. This course is designed to help develop reflective practice that is more relationship-based.1

Learning aims/outcomes

This course aims to:

  • explore how the therapeutic relationship in the antenatal period (conception to birth) can be used to examine a family’s psychosocial context and support the transition to parenting  
  • describe the significance of infant and toddler brain development in the first five years
  • identify how infants’ nonverbal cues for connection and curiosity contribute to communication and relationship development with their primary carers
  • explore how parents can nurture secure, flourishing mental health and development by engaging responsively in children’s play and curiosity
  • outline the dynamic developmental transitions that occur between 2–5 years of age; and
  • demonstrate how to apply respectful curiosity in exploring opportunities and challenges with parents.


It is estimated that this course will take you approximately two hours to complete, including reading the material, completing the reflective activities and watching the videos.


As you work through the course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you don’t feel that you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later.
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. For example, consider taking a break and doing something for yourself that you enjoy.
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course.

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263.


For the purposes of this course, the term parent encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising a child.

Antenatal is considered as the period from conception until birth.   

The perinatal period is considered here as the time from conception to the end of the first postnatal year.

Postnatal is the period from birth to six to eight weeks after delivery.

The term infant encompasses the antenatal period up to age three. Whilst clinical research and services often use ‘infant’ to describe children up to five years of age, this course will use the term toddler to clarify later developmental stages.2

Social and emotional wellbeing refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development.3

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual.4

‘Social and emotional wellbeing’ is also used by some people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, who may have differing concepts of mental health and mental illness.5

Social and emotional development involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people
  • manage strong emotions and how they are expressed
  • regulate behaviour
  • develop empathy
  • establish and maintain relationships.6 


This course draws on the latest research, clinical insights, and the lived experience of our child and family partners. We’d like to thank the professionals and families who played an integral role in shaping this course, generously offering their time, wisdom and unique perspectives.

A quick guide to Emerging Minds Learning

Watch the following video for a quick guide on how to navigate Emerging Minds Learning courses.


  1. Dolby, R., Meade, V., Warren, B., Osborne, J. H., & Cooney, G. (2014). Assisting the development of infants born prematurely using a self-regulation framework and relationship-based intervention process. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 4(4), 134–146.
  2. Zeanah, C.H Jr. (2019). Handbook of Infant Mental Health (4th). New York: Guildford Press.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: development of a Children’s Headline Indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW.
  4. Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, p.6.
  5. Everymind (2020). Understanding mental health and wellbeing. Newcastle: Everymind. Available here.
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2009). A picture of Australia’s children. no. PHE 112. Canberra: AIHW.

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