What is responsive or sensitive parenting (and top tips!)

What is responsive or sensitive parenting (and top tips!)

By Babysits
4 min read

Responsive parenting has become more common in recent years. Read more about what responsive parenting is and top tips to be more responsive as a parent or caregiver.

What is responsive parenting (sensitive parenting)

One of many parenting styles that have become more popular lately, but what is responsive parenting exactly?

Responsive parenting (sometimes called sensitive parenting) is a parenting style focused on parents' awareness of children’s emotional and physical states and needs and reacting to these needs with support. It is being conscious and understanding of how the child is feeling, in order to respond appropriately to how they are feeling in different situations.

According to Harvard researchers, This use of “warm and accepting behaviors to respond to children’s needs and signals… is critically important to young children’s development.

Benefits of responsive parenting

Many studies have shown benefits of responsive parenting. Particularly, responsive parenting can have several positive effects on children.

A Harvard Family Research Project study found that children participating in shared reading activities with responsive mothers over time showed;

  • Higher level language responses when answering questions or prompts,
  • and more verbal responses, engagement and enthusiasm than those without a responsive parent as a role model.

Other studies have shown that responsive parenting is connected to early childhood language development, as well as greater growth in social, emotional, communicative, and cognitive competence.

Specifically, responsive parenting can lead to increased vocabulary growth, as well as increased understanding of intention in social situations (which can be valuable both when learning languages, as well as, when interacting in social situations).

Benefits of responsive parenting

Responsive Caregivers

Responsive behavior doesn’t only apply to parents. It is also important for other caregivers of children and can have a similarly positive impact when all of the caregivers in a child’s life practice responsive caregiving.

The WHO even strongly recommends that, “All infants and children should receive responsive care during the first 3 years of life; parents and other caregivers should be supported to provide responsive care.”

See the WHO recommendations here

Tips for being a responsive parent

  • Observe your child - Observing your child's behavior can be a great way to start identifying the patterns that may indicate how they feel or react in specific situations. Being able to pick up on these telltale signs of how they are feeling can help when figuring out what type of response they may need emotionally or physically.
  • Ask questions - Asking the child caring and open-ended questions can be helpful when trying to understand how they are feeling, and being able to respond appropriately to how they are feeling with the support they need.
  • Be consistent - Being consistent is very important in responsive parenting. In fact, it often makes the difference between responsive and reactive parenting! Responsive means taking the time to respond appropriately and consistently, to give the child a clear baseline of expectations, and not reacting with out of control anger or frustration.
  • Encourage dialogue - Similar to asking questions, behaving in a caring manner and encouraging an open dialogue with children can be a positive way to support them and help them share their emotions. With a nurtured environment of open dialogue, they may be more likely to tell you how they may be feeling in a situation, helping you support them by responding with what they need.

Hopefully this article has given you a good overview of responsive caregiving, the benefits for kids, and tips for behaving responsively! Looking for other tips for parents or babysitters? Take a look at our community resources!

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