Responsive parenting for child development in early years

Responsive parenting refers to the ability of parents to notice, understand, and respond to a child's signals in a timely and appropriate way.

Responsive parenting for child development in early years
  • PublishedAugust 23, 2022

Responsive parenting refers to the ability of parents to notice, understand, and respond to a child’s signals in a timely and appropriate way, which is essential a child’s health, nutrition, safety and security. Responsive parenting builds on social interactions with the child and fosters an environment of trust and emotional security that support a child’s engagement, learning and other positive health and academic outcomes. As a result, it is an effective teaching practice that nurtures and responds to an individual child’s temperament and needs.

Characteristics of responsive parenting 

During the early years, children are highly dependent upon their parents to thrive. Therefore, need parents who are responsive to their needs, interests, and abilities. Responsive parenting begins with an awareness of how a child communicates their needs and interests then meet these according to the child’s rhythms. This plays a big role in responsive care giving.

A responsive parent takes cues from each child such as eye gazes, gestures, facial expressions, and sounds accurately and responds to the child’s individual pattern of sleep, hunger, and alertness sensitively. In return, in children develop trust and they feel they are in control of what is happening around them. Developing trust and empowering children are important ingredients of overall healthy development.

Importance of responsive parenting

Being responsive to children’s needs allows parents to support their well-being, belonging and becoming. To effectively support children, parents must identify unique aspects of children’s lives and focus on how to stimulate and facilitate healthy growth and development in the early years.

Responsive parenting also fosters healthy brain development. Moreover, it increases the likelihood of achieving cognitive, language, physical motor, and social-emotional milestones. In the contrast, long-term non-responsive care is related to health, learning, behavioural problems and developmental delays in life.

Responsive care recognizes that every child has unique needs and preferences and appreciates that children learn best through social interactions with trusted adults. It helps to communicate to children that they are important, that their needs will be met, and that their unique temperament and characteristics are respected. If parents are attuned to their children and respond consistently to their needs, they feel safe, supported and allowing for freedom to learn and thrive in the company of a trusted adult.

SEE ALSO: Developmental delays in children: What you should know

Two conditions must be met for responsive parenting:

Develop secure attachment

Attachment is about both the parent and the child, and how a relationship will be built over time that helps the child feel secure, confident, loved, and ready to face the world. It starts before birth and develops due to responses of love and attention given to the child. Responding to your child’s needs for warmth, cuddling, play, rest, and food helps the child to build a secure early attachment with the parent.

Early establishment of secure attachment helps children regulate their thoughts, and feelings and builds self-esteem. It is a slow process that builds and deepens over time which requires parents to engage in activities like singing, playing, talking, breastfeeding, feeding, washing and diaper changing which plays a critical role in establishing, building and sustaining a secure attachment.

Bond with your child

Bonding is about parental love, care, and concerns that are unique in a relationship with your child. It can happen before birth, at birth, or at any time during the first year of birth. Bonding can take longer to develop and doesn’t come naturally in some cases hence it’s understandable if it takes longer to bond with your child. There is also a need to take time to feel the bond, since feelings of love and care may vary by the moment or over long periods. Having a strong bond gives a sense of well-being to both the child and the parent. 


Responsive parenting recognizes that every child has unique needs and preferences. It fosters trust and emotional security supporting a child’s engagement, learning and other positive health and academic outcomes. Sensitive parents should be aware of children’s needs and respond appropriately and consistently. Having open conversations with children to learn about their perspective and implementing proper discipline strategies without added harshness are some of the ways to be a responsive parent and to lay a very strong foundation in the life of a child.  

The article was written by Dr. Catherine Gichuba, CEO and Lead Consultant at Regional Social Consultants Agency (RESCA).

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Written By
Diana Rachel