It’s a common enough saying but one that rings true: Babies don’t come with an instruction manual. So, when child behavior becomes challenging, where can parents go for help?
Erikson Institute Center for Children and Families (CCF) understands that parenting isn’t always easy. That’s why CCF offers a variety of services to help parents build the very best relationships with their young children.
“The focus on relationships is one of the things that stands us apart from other spaces,” explains Sara Anderson, a licensed clinical social worker and associate director for CCF. “We know that babies don’t exist on their own but in relationship to the trusted and important caregivers in their lives.”
Grounded in infant mental health theory and research as well as attachment theory, CCF works with parents so they can better understand the meaning behind their child’s behavior. When parents gain this knowledge, they can better respond to their child, which increases well-being and harmony for the whole family.
“Some providers might be driven to stop the behavior, but we really think about what is happening and how to use the parent-child relationship to strengthen the bond and solve the challenge,” Anderson says. “That relationship-based approach is so important and it guides how we think about the child’s relationship with caregivers to provide a nurturing, nonjudgmental space where parents can share what they are feeling and going through.”
Supporting parents and caregivers
With more than 50 years of industry expertise in early childhood applied research and education, CCF assists parents with better insight into early childhood development for children from birth to age 8. Trained specialists provide support in multiple locations including the main Erikson Institute in River North, as well as satellite locations in Oak Park, the Humboldt Park neighborhood and the Little Village community. In many cases, staff clinicians can provide therapy in Spanish.
“Parenting is such a hard job and so much can come up, expected and unexpected. We often learn to parent from how we were parented, and everyone struggles in their parenting journey to a certain degree,” Anderson says. “No one should feel like they should have to go it on their own. We offer a nonjudgmental space for parents’ worries and concerns and will collaborate and support parents in being the best parent they want to be and have the best outcomes for their child.”
Here, we share three helpful services offered by CCF that families can benefit from.
Infant and early childhood mental health counseling
When parents have concerns about their child’s behavior, or sense that the behavior has increased in intensity or persisted for several weeks, this is a time when extra help is needed.
This is also true when strategies that parents or caregivers are trying are just not working.
“In the early years, we really help by listening to parents who sometimes say they are at their wits’ end. They are overwhelmed and need help,” says Anderson. “Our work is so much about supporting parents and caregivers and the child.”
Because young children can’t reflect verbally what they are experiencing, CCF therapists are trained in play therapy and utilizing play “as the work of children and how they make sense of the world and communicate what they are thinking and feeling and how they see the world,” says Anderson, adding that CCF therapists are trained to recognize play through multiple lenses.
Neurodevelopmental diagnostic assessment
Parents can explore a full diagnostic evaluation for their child by contacting CCF when they, a child care provider, preschool teacher or pediatrician has a concern about the rate of a child’s neurological, social or physical development.
A full interdisciplinary team of clinical psychologists, developmental behavioral pediatricians, speech therapists and occupational therapists will meet with the parent and child. “Based on the team’s recommendation, the child can come in for several visits to determine what’s going on and if the child meets the criteria for a delay,” Anderson explains.
Following the diagnosis, parents can seek therapies recommended by the team. “This might include speech therapy or occupational therapy or a recommendation to visit the pediatrician or the child’s school or care provider to get extra supportive services,” says Anderson. “And we work to support the parent and help them understand what it means to have a child with a diagnosis and what parenting might look like.”
When a child has a concurrent diagnosis of a neurological and mental health disorder, CCF can help provide treatment, too.
Fussy Baby Network
With a new baby at home, it’s a relief to know that there is a source of expert, nonjudgmental support at CCF. The Fussy Baby Network offers a range of services to support families and help them calm their baby — and build confidence in their own parenting skills at the same time.
Infant specialists are a phone call away on the Fussy Baby Network’s “warmline.” They are indeed warm, caring, knowledgeable and specially trained to help parents in the most compassionate ways. All of their services are available in English and Spanish.
During COVID, at-home visits are replaced by virtual visits, and can be so helpful at a time when parenting is at its most overwhelming. A specialist will discuss strategies to soothe the fussy baby and help parents explore ways to enjoy their baby more.
And, for ongoing support, the Fussy Baby Network offers parent groups online and, post-pandemic, within Chicago communities.
“In that first year of life, coping with a fussy baby, getting adequate sleep and breastfeeding are all challenges parents face,” Anderson says. “It can be a struggle and we want parents to know they don’t have to do it alone.”
Learn more about the Erikson Institute Center for Children and Families at erikson.edu/center-children-families. For the Fussy Baby Network, call 888-431-BABY (2229) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.