Supporting the development of self-regulation in infants: a promising strategy in preventive mental health care

01 October 2023 → 30 September 2027
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Social psychology not elsewhere classified
    • Sociology of health
    • Interpersonal communication
  • Medical and health sciences
    • Biological psychiatry
    • Preventive medicine
    • Mental healthcare services
  • Engineering and technology
    • Biomedical signal processing
regulation children parents stress family processes
Project description

A major challenge of the newborn child is to learn to regulate internal states (physiological, emotional, and cognitive) and behavior. The child’s self-regulation stems from successful co-regulation between the baby and its caregiver(s) and constitutes the basis of mental health. Regulation problems (RP) in early childhood are the seeds for emergent developmental psychopathology and for persistent mental health problems later in life. Given the increasing pressure on our mental health care system, targeting RP at an early age is a cost-effective
prevention strategy. Based on growing empirical and clinical evidence, we hypothesize that child RP largely result from/persist through coregulation difficulties within the child-parent dyad, which itself is largely impacted by stress and regulation difficulties in the parent. Hence, reducing stress and enhancing parents’ regulation abilities may be the most optimal gateway for improving self-regulation in the child, thereby preventing future mental health problems. To date, however, there is a dearth of scientific research on this topic, both with respect to the (1) characterization, detection and understanding of regulation (problems) (WP1&2), and (2) the organization of preventive care around early regulation in young children (WP3&4). The current proposal will address these gaps in 4 work packages aimed at: (1) quantifying micro self- and co-regulation dynamics within a ‘biobehavioral synchrony framework’; (2) understanding the prevalence and contextual risk and protective factors of RP; (3) pinpointing the missed opportunities in the preventive care for young children with RP and translating 3rd line clinical expertise to fill these gaps and (4) developing and testing a 0th/1st line health care program empowering parents in the co-regulation process with
their child. Together with our committed stakeholders, this multidisciplinary project aims to be a game changer in the early prevention of mental health care.