Background: the family is central to a child’s development and well-being. Parental understanding of mental health or psychological distress have a significant effect on child development including their mental health. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore parents understanding of mental health in early childhood development.

Methods: semi-structured interviews with 12 parents of children in early childhood development were conducted. Five themes emerged from the thematic analysis: (1) Understanding mental health; (2) Perceptions of parental mental health in relation to the child; (3) Child’s behaviour when experiencing different emotions; (4) Child’s behaviour when witnessing parent’s emotions; and (5) Child’s interaction, confidence, and attitude. Overall, parents were not clear in understanding mental health. They could understand and identify basic emotions but were unable to identify early childhood mental health signs. Recommendations enhancing the knowledge and skills of parents are provided within the capabilities framework.

Key Take Away Points

    • Parents/caregivers lack understanding of what mental health is as a concept.

    • Stress caused by a child’s behaviour was viewed as affecting parental mental health.

    • Children can adequately express their basic emotions, but parents/caregivers do not link basic emotions to mental health.

    • Children can identify parental/caregiver emotions and responds to parents/caregiver emotions.


We thank the parents and caregivers who participated in the study as well as the various organisations who allowed us to gain access to participants via their channels. Additionally, we thank the National Research Foundation (118551, 118581 and 115460), for funding the research project.