Building parental responsiveness from the ground up

Responsive parenting series part 3

This post is the third of a three part series on responsive parenting.  Responsive parenting, in a nutshell, means parenting that is responsive to the signals or cues of your child.  It is warm, caring and on cue.  Responsiveness is often understood within an attachment theory framework (responsive parenting predicts secure attachment styles in children) but I’m not going to go into that here.  In fact, apart from this short introduction, I won’t be mentioning attachment at all.  This isn’t because attachment theory isn’t valuable.  It is because it can be useful to view parental responsiveness from other angles too to get a full and complete picture of responsiveness.

We’ve seen how parental responsiveness is the way that humans do parental care and why it is vital not just for emotional development and psychological health but also for cognitive development.  Convinced parental responsiveness matters but unsure of how to get there?  Here are some simple tips to tune in and be responsive:

  • Start with your own heart. Like, really, start there.  What matters most to you about parenting?  If you could secretly listen to your child, in twenty or thirty years’ time, completing the sentence, ‘I’m lucky I had the parents I had because….’  What would you love, absolutely love, to hear your child say?  I’m guessing it isn’t ‘they had me toilet trained in a single weekend!’ No, it is something about being loving, or being kind, or just plain being there, isn’t it?  Listen to your heart…
  • Be present psychologically. Your child exists in this very moment, in the here and now.  If you aren’t psychologically in the here and now too, if you are daydreaming or worried about the future or caught up in memories of the past, you are missing your child as he or she is right now.  And you are probably missing your child’s signals.  If being present is a challenge for you, consider practising mindfulness.  In fact, practise mindfulness of your child as you interact.  Pause and just notice your child, as he or she is in the here and now again and again. 
  • Wonder about your child’s perspective. Many, many times a day pause and just wonder: How does my child feel?  What is my child thinking?  What is my child seeing?  Take these insights into account and notice what happens.  Wonder again.
  • Loosen up a bit. Be creative.    Being a responsive parent isn’t something that you either achieve… or not.  It is a process, a process of continual adjustment and experimentation.  Even incredibly responsive parents are often off-cue.  When you notice you’ve gotten it wrong, gently experiment with a different approach. 
  • Find your own joy in connection. Responsive interactions are often playful, relaxed and fun for both parents and children.  Find your own joy in getting to know your child, in understanding your child’s perspective, and meeting your child’s needs.  At times being responsive can be tough.  Listen to your heart at these times.  Find the sweet satisfaction that comes from doing what matters, even when life is tough.

Apply it to your life:  Experiment with this responsiveness recipe.  Which aspects worked for you?

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