March 2, 2010

Responsive parenting: my top piece of parenting advice

Watch your child's cues so that you can respond accordingly - to meet his/her needs.

I recently began volunteering with young mothers in my area: lay counseling, parenting help, a Mommy Money Program (the mothers can earn points toward free products, diapers, clothing, etc) and more. After speaking with the Director of this facility, we both agreed: more parenting focus is needed. We want to teach the mothers in more depth about subjects like brain development, effective baby-care, one-on-one attention, play time, communication, eye contact and especially – Responsive Parenting.

What is Responsive Parenting?

If you Google this term, numerous articles and data will pop up. The Encyclopedia Britannica explains Responsive Parenting in this way:

“In addition to food, sanitation and access to health facilities children require adequate care at home for survival and optimal development. Responsiveness, a mother’s/caregiver’s prompt, contingent and appropriate interaction with the child, is a vital parenting tool with wide-ranging benefits for the child, from better cognitive and psychosocial development to protection from disease and mortality.”

If I could pass along to you my top piece of parenting advice, this would be it:

Responsive Parenting.

Simply put: being aware of your child’s needs and addressing those needs quickly and effectively.

Many of you know that my son was born with numerous medical complications. His right eye was removed ten days following his first birthday. That first two years of life were filled with so many emotions, frustrations, painful moments and countless trial/error situations. As a very young first time mother, being tossed into this already-overwhelming situation…coupled with the medical issues…was no small deal.

Thank God I had my mother near by for support. She has worked in special needs classrooms for many years, had four children of her own, had babysat and nurtured countless Mini Humans over the years – and was able to offer me guidance when I so desperately needed it.

She would instruct me in regard to all sorts of matters:

  • When you nurse, hold his head ‘this way.’
  • When you want to de-latch him, do _________.
  • The best way to burp is __________.
  • When you change his diaper, be sure to stop him from rolling off the change table.
  • He needs a little black/white/red mobile hanging over his crib for visual stimulation.
  • When you pick him up, support his head.
  • Make sure you snuggle him often.
  • Don’t dictate when you are going to feed him. He will tell YOU when he is ready.
  • Never wake a sleeping baby!
  • Pay attention to his cries – each cry means something different and specific.
  • If he is fussy, check the diaper first. Then ask, “Is he hungry?” Then, “Is he hot? Cold? Uncomfortable?” Try to meet his needs quickly based on each situation.
  • You can never spoil a baby!
  • If he won’t stop crying, go for a drive. That might help. If he screams, he may be carsick just like you were. You didn’t stop screaming in the car until we turned your car seat facing forward.
  • Make sure you give him tummy time on the floor each day: at least 20 minutes.
  • Be sure he has plenty of objects to touch and turn over and explore. Children need to explore their surroundings in a safe and welcoming environment.
  • Play music for him.
  • Dance around with him.
  • Make crafts together.
  • Sing songs together. Even if you are not on tune, he will not care. He just wants your time and attention.
  • Feed him healthy foods – not junk food.
  • Don’t let him watch much TV, if any (before age two).
  • Teach him baby Sign so he can communicate with his hands before he’s able to use his words. This will not delay his speech – it will actually cause him to be more articulate later on (totally true).
  • Watch for his cues – he will tell you what he wants or needs. If you pay attention to that, it will alleviate a great deal of stress for the both of you.

Etc…etc…etc 🙂

That last piece of advice pretty much sums things up:

Watch for their cues – they will tell you what they want or need. If you pay attention to that, it will alleviate a great deal of stress for the both of you.

That is one of the truest statements ever made. With three children now, I can tell you: this piece of advice can be put into action from the moment of birth…up until…well, death. Even now, I love it when others really pay attention to my cues. Am I sad? Hurt? Angry? Tired? Do I need help with dinner? With cleaning? And so on.

It’s no different for a baby, a toddler, a tween or a teen.

  • Are they sad?
  • Hungry?
  • Tired?
  • Grumpy?
  • Bad day at school?
  • Bullying going on?
  • Are their eyes strained? Do they need glasses?
  • Teeth painful – do they need fillings?
  • Legs severely sore – are they having growing pains?
  • Are they limping? Have you checked for a splinter in the foot? A cut? Sprained ankle?
  • Are they tugging at the ears? Might they have an ear infection?
  • Have they been sitting in a crib for too long? Basinet? Are they frustrated with a lack of attention?
  • Are they sick of being stuck indoors? Do they need time to run and jump in the fresh air?
  • Is their tummy hurting? Are they hungry? Thirsty?
  • Are they withdrawing? Did someone or something hurt their feelings?
  • Is their bed-wetting possibly a sign of something more serious?
  • Did they scream after you put the shoes on? Maybe there is a rock in the shoe.
  • Is your child bored with his/her toys and books? Perhaps it’s time to rotate or get some new, age appropriate items? (Try thrift stores or yard sales if your budget is low or ask your friends/relatives for their hand-me-down items.)

I could go on and on but you get the picture. Most of your child’s cries, hurts, angry feelings or disagreeable behaviors may be based on a need that is not being met (or an action that needs to take place).

If we can keep that in mind and address the issues, quickly, as they come along – much stress will be alleviated for both you and your child(ren). Any time someone asks me, “What’s the hardest thing about parenting?” I always respond, “It’s very time consuming.” It is. Parenting is a full-time job but when you implement the Responsive Parenting philosophy, many of the possible stressers are minimized.

After-all, when our needs are being met we feel loved, safe, secure and content, right?

In closing – that’s the greatest thing about Responsive Parenting. It works.

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