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Responsive Parenting: Building a Healthy Relationship in their Early Year

Family Communications, Inc.

Early childhood specialists suggest that a building a healthy relationship with your child can help your child grow in all areas of development. This is part of a series of article from MSU Extension staff Kittie Butcher and Janet Pletcher.

Many families rely on a whole range of resources to raise their children, from good old common sense to cutting-edge research.  Parents today look for strategies that will help their child build skills in all areas of development - cognitive, physical, moral, language, social and emotional domains.  Early childhood researchers at Harvard University recently published a working paper that supports the idea that social and emotional skills are at the foundation of all learning.  Building strong relationships with others, as well as self- knowledge, is basic to social and emotional development.

Credit Family Communications, Inc.
Daniel Tiger

Relationships Affect a Lifetime

Parents know that the relationship that we establish with our children in their early years can affect them for their entire lives.  Of course, we think about this when our children are young, and maybe even worry about it sometimes.  You can read about relationships gone awry, and the devastating consequences, in the news every day.

Responsive Parenting

Early childhood specialists refer to the concept of responsive parenting to build a healthy relationship with your child.  Dr. Claire Vallotton of Michigan State University says “Responsive care of young children involves attending to, accurately perceiving, and appropriately responding to children’s cues.” 

Credit Family Communications, Inc.

To be a responsive parent, we need to be attuned to our child.  Attunement is common but it is not necessarily purposeful.  Parents can learn how to be better “in tune” with their child.  Today, early childhood researchers use the term “attuned” to refer to the state parents achieve when they are able to recognize and understand their infants’ feelings, thoughts and needs.  

Learning the Signals

Credit Family Communications, Inc.
Daniel Tiger starts his day.

With a newborn, it often takes a few weeks to become attuned to the point where parents recognize the cry that means “I’m tired” or the one that means “I’m hungry”.  Once parents can distinguish between these cries, they can fulfill the child’s needs and life becomes much calmer and less stressful for both parent and child.  As infants mature, their communication strategies become more sophisticated and we must continue to listen and watch for more subtle cues to keep up with baby.

For More Information

If you would like to learn more about your child’s social and emotional development, try the  Developmental Tracker on the PBS Parents website.  On the PBS Kids website, you can also watch clips from the children’s show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for examples of how Daniel and his friends work through issues related to building relationships with children and adults.

The first step to a healthy relationship with your young child is to “tune-in” to your child.  And, luckily for us, it is a delightful step.

Kittie Butcher & Janet Pletcher

This is part of a series of articles on early childhood development by Kittie Butcher MSU Extension Educator, Children Youth Families & Communities and Janet Pletcher MA, Adjunct Faculty, Child Development and Early Education Program, Lansing Community College.

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