6 Benefits of Being a Responsive Parent
When we’re juggling work pressures, domestic duties and children’s needs, we can become overwhelmed and impatient. The more we delay responding to children’s cries for attention, the more insistent they become until everyone ends up feeling cranky and drained.
How can we break this unhelpful cycle? According to Educational and Developmental Psychologist Dr Kimberley O’Brien, responsive parenting is the key. “When you’re quick to respond to your child’s needs, they don’t need to demand attention from you in negative ways,” says Dr Kimberley. “If you need to concentrate on something, you can say, ‘Give me five minutes and I’ll be with you.’ You can use an egg timer so your child knows what to expect.”
Before we address the advantages of responsive parenting below, watch our short video in which Dr Kimberley explains more about how responsive parenting works and how parents can remain responsive even when they're under pressure.
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A large body of research has demonstrated the benefits of responsive parenting (Parenting Science, n.d.). Dr Kimberley walks us through six of the main advantages.
1. Children feel heard
When children don’t feel like their needs are being met, they may raise their voices or develop attention-seeking behaviours. “If you respond quickly, they’ll know that they just have to say ‘Mum’ or 'Dad' in a quiet tone and you’ll be there,” says Dr Kimberley.
Being a responsive parent doesn’t mean being at your child’s beck and call though. “It’s often as simple as getting them started with an activity, such as helping them collect all the items they need for a craft project,” explains Dr Kimberley. “Once they’re set up, you’ll be able to go back to your work or other activities.”
2. The home is calm
Responsive parenting also keeps the home calm and quiet because it’s not reactive. “Ignoring a request generally doesn’t have a positive outcome,” says Dr Kimberley. “The frustration builds on both sides and is likely to explode. While it might feel more difficult to respond to your child’s needs right away, once responsiveness is established, your home will be a calmer and happier place.”
3. Children learn problem-solving skills
How many times has your child asked for your help to do something you feel they should be able to do on their own? Keep assisting them patiently and they eventually won’t need you anymore.
“If your child is asking to paint and you say, ‘OK, we need the water, the paint and the paintbrushes,’ and you help them collect the items, you’ll set them up for success and model problem-solving,” says Dr Kimberley. “Eventually, they’ll grab the water, paint and paintbrushes and get started on their own.
4. Children feel loved
“Responsive parenting maintains and nurtures the parent-child relationship because it shows them that they’re a priority in your life which is important for their self-esteem,” explains Dr Kimberley. “If you don’t show them they’re a priority, they might start to think, ‘I asked a dumb question’ and doubt themselves rather than understanding that you have a work deadline that has nothing to do with them.”
5. Parents get a boost in self-esteem
Great news: there’s something in it for parents too! “Responsive parenting makes you feel great because you think, ‘I dealt with that issue in five seconds!’,” says Dr Kimberley. “It makes you feel like you’re on top of things as a parent. You feel organised and efficient rather than letting situations spiral into, ‘You’ve made a huge mess and I’m running behind!’ There are plenty of negatives that can come from not being responsive and a lot to be gained from attending to our children’s needs.”
6. Children reap social, emotional and cognitive rewards
Last but not least, research has clearly demonstrated the benefits of maternal responsiveness. “One particular study published in the American Psychological Association’s journal Developmental Psychology found that children’s social, emotional and communication skills improved with maternal responsiveness and that there were cognitive benefits too,” says Dr Kimberley (Landry et al., 2006). “The research backs up what I’ve seen in a clinical setting: the more attentive parents are to their children’s needs, the more secure and confident these children are to go out into the world and do their best.”
Responsive parenting is a proactive parenting style that can help prevent behavioural issues rather than having to fix them. Try it and let us know how you go!
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View article references
- Parenting Science. (n.d.). Sensitive, Responsive Parenting: How Does it Benefit Your Child's Health? Parenting Science.
- Landry, S. H., Smith, K. E., & Swank, P. R. (2006). Responsive parenting: establishing early foundations for social, communication, and independent problem-solving skills. Developmental psychology, 42(4), 627–642. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16220.127.116.117
- Landry, S. H., Smith, K. E., Swank, P. R., & Guttentag, C. (2008). A responsive parenting intervention: the optimal timing across early childhood for impacting maternal behaviors and child outcomes. Developmental psychology, 44(5), 1335–1353. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0013030