What is responsive parenting

What's Covered

Parenting is a lifelong privilege, a responsibility that ought to be taken seriously, and promises rewards when well done. Parents begin the journey of raising children with little or no foreknowledge of the process. How well they quickly adapt determines their effectiveness and the joy or lack of it in the journey. While we all want to raise well-behaved, mentally, physically, and emotionally stable children, it takes work and dedication to do it.

What is responsive parenting?

Responsive parenting, also known as sensitive parenting is a style of parenting that aims at keeping the needs of a child at the forefront and working at meeting them.[1] The core value is trust. From early childhood, a child has the needs that a parent or caregiver ought to meet for the child’s well-being. Trust is built as the parent engages actively with the child to learn what the child is about, their needs, and developmental stages. What the parent does with the information, determines whether the child grows feeling loved, appreciated, and valued.

Needs of a child

The role of a parent is to nurture another human being from childhood to adulthood. This process is presented with needs that vary from one stage of growth to another. With every child wired differently and at different stages of life, their needs also are different. However, there are universal needs every child has, which a parent is called to meet.

Food

A proper diet from the onset secures the good health of a child. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth to six months of their life is encouraged as the breast milk is high in nutrition.[2]

Love

Loving parents are a great gift to any child. When a child is raised in a loving home, they are not only secure but also share the same love with others. It is a lot easier to correct a child who knows they are loved because they interpret it as care.

Security

Children thrive in a safe and secure environment. Making sure that a parent is at peace within themselves is the first step towards achieving that. A secure environment encourages the child to be themselves without the fear of being judged,  rejected, or harmed.

Order

There is nothing as disruptive to a child as disorder and inconsistencies. Lack of order means anything can be done anytime. When a newborn comes home, they need to be sleep trained and schedule fed. This is essential in their settling down and adapting to a world of order around them.[3] Raising a child in a chaotic home affects their ability to be structured, and they grow with little or no regard for rules that create order.

Education

Offering quality education to a child creates room for them to fit in the world of intellect. Basic education helps a child become aware of themselves and the world around them. Life skills imparted at home, and what a child is taught at school are investments for the child’s future.

Guidance

During infancy, a parent has much control over what a child does and doesn’t do. But as they grow older, children will venture into a world of discovery. During this stage, guidance from the parent helps them make good choices and avoid unforeseen pitfalls.[4] Offering support to them is essential to their healthy self-esteem.

Social skills

Human beings by nature are self-centered. A normal response is the unwillingness in children to share their toys with others. Growing social skills in children is essential in their interaction with others. The art of active listening, sharing, speaking for themselves prepares them to live well with others.

Emotional skills

Emotions play a major role in children, it is how they show disapproval for something they don’t like and glee for what excites them. Children can project varied intense emotions within a short time. Growing their emotional skills helps them acknowledge what they feel in a controlled way.[5] As they grow older, they are trained to live with others not belonging to their family.

Parenting styles

Parenting is difficult. Doing it right is not always obvious. Different parents employ different strategies of parenting. Below are various types of parenting.

Dictatorial parenting style

In this style of parenting, the parent assumes a militant role. He/she is the boss, and the children must do what is said without question. The parent does not exhibit care for the children. Obedience is the goal, without which punishment is enforced. Children from these homes struggle with esteem issues because their opinions are not listened to. They are good at following rules without seeking to understand why they do what they do.

Tolerant parenting style

In this style of parenting, a parent is more of a friend to the child than they are a parent. Children are allowed to decide what they want with little or no guidance. There are rules in such a home but are not enforced. Tolerant parents are warm and welcoming towards their children, which helps the children to be open with them. However, these parents will not offer the support that the children need from them. Children from such homes are likely to suffer from low self-esteem or health-related issues due to little boundaries on their diet or how much time they spend watching television.

Detached parenting style

This style of parenting involves parents who are uninvolved in their children’s welfare. They are distanced, leaving children to fend for themselves. There is no guidance or support from the parents. Discipline is lacking. Children take the lead, doing and being with whoever they want to be. Children from such homes are likely to suffer from abuse and fail in academics. They grow with a sense of abandonment that affects who they become and how they relate with others.

Authentic parenting style

This parenting style is the one closest to responsive parenting. The parent seeks to know their child, is close to them, and validates their emotions. He/she is intentional about creating a warm and nurturing atmosphere around the home. The child is loved and appreciated and is allowed to express themselves without being ashamed. Rules are in place, and the consequences of breaking them are clear. However, the parent, seeking to be in charge, is not military in their approach and considers the feelings and opinions of the child. Children from such homes are generally happy people, capable of making good choices and decisions about their lives.

How responsive parenting is done

Responsive parenting is one that requires the parent to be attentive from the onset. It is a role she takes with the intention of learning from the child. Right from birth, she will be required to observe the mannerisms of the child to know when the child is hungry, tired, or unwell. This style of parenting takes the following steps, on a constant basis.

Observing

It is the role of the parent to be on the lookout for cues from a child. For example, when an infant is hungry, sick, wet, or tired, they will mostly cry. A responsive parent will therefore need to spend quality time with the child to differentiate the cry of hunger from that of fatigue and meet the need accordingly. The parent will study different milestones of a child to understand the expected growth pattern of the child. However, she allows the child to lead them on as opposed to initiating something the child is not ready for or is unwilling to do. In older children, the role of responsive parenting takes a slightly different approach. This is because these children can express themselves verbally, and can display an array of emotions within a short time period. The parent takes the cues from the child regarding their emotions and will guide them towards proper stewardship of them so they grow emotionally stable.[6]

Interpreting

The purpose of a parent’s attentiveness is to interpret what the child is communicating. Is the child tired or bored? What is the message behind the outburst of emotions? Why are they suddenly disinterested in their favorite activity?

Responding

Although a child takes the lead in responsive parenting, the parent is the one in charge. Based on the cues presented, they decide the best cause of action to meet the need. What sets responsive parenting apart from the other styles of parenting is the fact that a child’s emotions are regarded, considered normal, and are encouraged. A responsive parent is aware that her children are different and responds to them differently and with respect.

When a presented need is promptly attended to by a caregiver or parent, a child grows in the understanding that they are loved and are valued.

Particular ways a parent can responsively respond to their child’s needs include the following.

Playtime

Making time or simply being spontaneous in playing with your child creates security in them. Get down to their level, and enjoy the game they want to play with you. Show happy emotions and encourage laughter as you play. Playtime is not wasted time at all. Times of play encourage both parent and child to be creative as opposed to watching television.[7] Regulated screen time helps in the development of social skills as well as children’s creativity.

Baby’s cry

Crying is not only a way of expression for infants. Older children will also cry when hurt, frustrated, or unhappy. When a child’s cry is left unattended for periods of time, the child feels unloved and uncared for. Respond by touching and holding them. It communicates care and comfort. While some communities shame crying as a way of expressing oneself, terming it as weakness, there is nothing wrong with it. Resist the urge as a parent to shame children when they express themselves this way.

Social interactions

Language development contributes to how well a child expresses themselves. As a responsive parent, interacting with your child gives you an opportunity to grow their vocabulary and develop confidence in who they are.[8] A way of doing this is speaking to them, lovingly right from infancy. Develop and maintain eye contact with them. Listening patiently to older children helps you develop patience, and it helps them better express themselves. When children feel that their opinions are valued, they will freely express themselves. When the opposite is true, they close up and are likely to suffer in silence.

Show love

Love speaks a different language to different people. Knowing how your child wants to be loved helps a parent respond appropriately to them. Some children treasure touch[9] and hugs, others thrive when words of affirmation are spoken to them. A responsive parent will be intentional about learning each child’s love language and offer unconditional love in the unique way each child appreciates.

Showing honor and respect

It is not uncommon to see dishonor and disrespect expressed towards children.[10] Where this happens, children are regarded as objects of manipulation instead of people worthy of respect. As a responsive parent, your desire is to communicate respect to your children, with the intention of teaching them to respect themselves and others. You do this by honoring their individual nature, temperaments, and personalities. Children should not be regarded as a bother. Listen to them, respect their opinions and offer the needed support and guidance.

Be present

It is difficult to effectively be a responsive parent from a distance. Being a present parent, who gives his/her time to a child is essential to their security and safety. They grow up in an atmosphere of love and support. Children not only need your physical presence, but your emotional presence too. Being actively present fosters attachment with the children.[11] A parent, especially a mom’s prolonged absence will have adverse effects on her children.  

Show and be in control

Nurturing children is a highly emotive journey. Having to deal with emotional outbursts from children, and bouts of fatigue on a parent does affect our emotional well being. Because the desire of a responsive parent is to raise emotionally, mentally and socially mature and secure children, it is essential that her emotional well being remains balanced. Responsive parents are humans who get angry, stressed, fatigued and frustrated. Knowing what to do during these moments is essential to her well being and that of her child. Resist the urge to yell when you are tired or frustrated. Your child is learning from you, and how well you model being in control of your emotions helps the child feel safe around and with you.

Be open to learn

Responsive parenting is a learning curve. There is a lot your child can teach you. Children are naturally inquisitive. It is how they learn. Encouraging their inquisitiveness will surprise us about how much we need to learn. Children teach us simple joys of life. How about the genuine laughter and glee at a game of peek-a-boo! Most parents are goal oriented. Children teach us to live in the moment. Whatever fun activity they find to do consumes them fully. A parent then learns to enjoy whatever they are doing without fretting about the next thing. The laundry can wait.

Benefits of responsive parenting

Responsive parenting has immense benefits on children. Being present as a parent in every level of a child’s development is an investment worth making. Below are some benefits of this style of parenting.

Good health

The proper health of a child is foundational to everything else about them. A responsive parent is in charge of the diet of the child, ensuring that they feed well, get enough rest, live in a safe environment and are hitting their required developmental milestones.

Confidence

A responsive parent works at being prompt and consistent in their meeting of needs of their children. This loving response boosts confidence in children as they are unafraid of self expression. Prompt and consistent response communicate worth and value to children.

Calmness

A responsive parent aspires to create a calm environment for her child. Her loyal and consistent involvement in the child’s daily life offers comfort. A child with special needs benefits from the constant presence of the parent, without which creates stress in the child. The calm effect is essential to healthy mental development.[12] A lot gets achieved in a day when calmness in both the parent and the child is cultivated.

Independence

Responsive parenting helps raise independent children, capable of making good choices for themselves. This is because the parent aims at guiding the child towards proper mannerisms, self respect, self awareness and their surrounding. Responsive parents understand that children, just like themselves will make mistakes, and will offer guidance, while listening to their opinions. Open communication helps the child respect rules which helps them in proper decision making.[13]

Child protection

Children are vulnerable to many vices in society.[14] They can suffer abuse, rejection, or bullying both in or away from home. Responsive parenting best works against such ills.

Discipline

Responsive parenting nurtures discipline in children differently from other styles of parenting. The parent takes time to explain the rules and the consequences of not abiding by them, but never in a military way. It is common for example, for children to get into fights with each other. In such an instance, a responsive parent aims at explaining why such behaviour is unacceptable. When that is explained, the child involved opens up to healthy options[15] of dealing with strong emotions such as anger.

Final thoughts

Loyalty, consistency and prompt response to the needs of a child define a responsive parent. A child raised this way will turn out a better person who gives out what has been instilled in them. They in turn can raise confident children, modelling after the parents who raised them. Raising confident, respectful, self aware children who make good choices in life makes for a better society. To work towards these goals is a privilege every parent is afforded with, and to achieve them, is to win in life.


[1] Landry, Susan H., et al. “Does early responsive parenting have a special importance for children’s development or is consistency across early childhood necessary?.” Developmental psychology 37.3 (2001): 387.

[2] Lawrence, Patricia Barry. “Breast milk: best source of nutrition for term and preterm infants.” Pediatric Clinics of North America 41.5 (1994): 925-941.

[3] van Schaik, Saskia DM, et al. “Getting the Baby on a Schedule: Dutch and American Mothers’ Ethnotheories and the Establishment of Diurnal Rhythms in Early Infancy.” New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development 2020.170 (2020): 13-41.

[4] Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. “Guidance for effective discipline.” Pediatrics 101.4 (1998): 723-728.

[5] Castro, Vanessa L., et al. “Parents’ emotion‐related beliefs, behaviours, and skills predict children’s recognition of emotion.” Infant and child development 24.1 (2015): 1-22.

[6] Gordon, Mary. “Roots of empathy: Responsive parenting, caring societies.” The Keio journal of medicine 52.4 (2003): 236-243.

[7] Adams, Elizabeth L., et al. “INSIGHT responsive parenting intervention reduces infant’s screen time and television exposure.” international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity 15.1 (2018): 1-9.

[8] Tamis‐LeMonda, Catherine S., et al. “Responsive parenting in the second year: Specific influences on children’s language and play.” Early Development and Parenting: An International Journal of Research and Practice 5.4 (1996): 173-183.

[9] LeFebvre, Joan E., and Family Living Agent. “Importance of Touch.” (2009).

[10] Khalifa, Huda Assem Mohammed. “Where there is disrespect, you will find violence: The Demography of Child-on-Child Disrespect in Egyptian.” (2018).

[11] Volling, Brenda L., et al. “Parents’ emotional availability and infant emotional competence: Predictors of parent-infant attachment and emerging self-regulation.” Journal of family psychology 16.4 (2002): 447.

[12] Shahmoon-Shanok, Rebecca, and H. Carlton Stevenson. “Calmness fosters compassionate connections: Integrating mindfulness to support diverse parents, their young children, and the providers who serve them.” Zero to Three 35.3 (2015): 18-30.

[13] Olszewski-Kubilius, Paula. “Raising Self-Sufficient and Independent Children.” Parenting for High Potential 1.8 (2012): 2.

[14] Munro, Eileen. Effective child protection. Sage, 2019.

[15] Sege, Robert D., et al. “Effective discipline to raise healthy children.” Pediatrics 142.6 (2018).

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Author

Tiffany Biondi

Tiffany Biondi

Mother of 4 kids, Tiffany is a certified childcarer and during her free time, she write posts in thebabychoice to share her hands on experience and knowledge.

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