Children’s development of the cognitive and social skills needed for later success in school may be best supported by a parenting style known as response parenting. Responsiveness is an aspect of supportive parenting described across different theories and research frameworks (e.g. attachment, socio-cultural) as playing an important role in providing a strong foundation for children to develop optimally. Parenting that provides positive affection and high levels of warmth and is responsive in ways that are contingently linked to a young child’s signals (“contingent responsiveness”) are the affective-emotional aspects of a responsive style. These aspects, in combination with behaviours that are cognitively responsive to the child’s needs, including the provision of rich verbal input and maintaining and expanding on the child’s interests, provide the range of support necessary for multiple aspects of a child’s learning.
Acceptance of the child’s interests with responses that are prompt and contingent to what the child signals supports learning, in part, by facilitating the child’s development of mechanism for coping with stress and novelty in his or her environment. With repeated positive experiences, a trust and bond develop between the child and parent that in turn allow the child to ultimately internalize this trust and then generalize their learning to new experiences. This sensitive support promotes the child’s continued engagement in learning activities with his or her parent. Thus, these affective-emotional behaviours communicate the parent’s interest and acceptance, fostering self-regulation and cooperation, critically important behaviours for effective learning to occur. From a socio-cultural view point, cognitively responsive behaviours (e.g. maintaining versus redirecting interests, rich verbal input) are thought to facilitate higher levels of learning because they provide a structure or scaffold for the young child’s immature skills, such as developing attentional and cognitive capacities. Responsive behaviours in this, framework promote joint engagement and reciprocity in the parent-child interaction and help a child learn to assume a more active and ultimately independent role in the learning process. Responsive support for the child to become actively engaged in solving problems is often referred to as parental scaffolding, and is also thought to be key for facilitating children’s development of self-regulation and executive functions skills, behaviours that allow the child to ultimately assume responsibility for the well-being.
The child-parent relationship has a major influence on most aspects of child development. When oprimal, parenting skills and behaviours have a positive impact on children’s self esteem, school achievement, cognitive development and behaviour.
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Responsive parenting, according to many descriptive studies and fewer experimental studies, is an important studies, is an important process for supporting young children’s learning. There is now support for a causal role of responsive parenting, as greater gains in the parental behaviours associated with a responsive style were responsible for the effect of several parenting interventions on greater gains in young children’s learning. Also, recent evidence for normally developing children showing links between early high levels of responsive parenting and increased volume in brain regions responsible for regulation of stress suggests the critical importance of this parent practice in early development.
As both normal and high-risk children benefited from responsiveness that provided affective-emotional and cognitively responsive support, the effectiveness of responsiveness seems best understood when it is defined as a broad construct. Recent evidence shows that certain responsive behaviours may provide different types of support for children’s learning and this support may vary depending on a child’s development needs. There are many new research avenues that need to be explored and questions addressed in recent studies that require further examination.
The importance of responsive parenting for young children’s well-being has many policy implications. Policy and practice decision-makers need to pay particular attention to parents who are most at risk: they need to find ways to facilitate change in parents’ behaviours, taking into consideration factors such as parent beliefs, social support, mental health status, in order to maximize effectiveness. Synthesis of relevant research should guide new investments in parent programs and the development of research initiatives concerning responsive parenting. Developmental science is frequently not well integrated into policy or program application. Given the critically important role of early experience in brain development, policy-makers have an interest in making sure that young children’s environment (e.g. home, child, care) are of high enough quality to promote positive outcomes. When new investments are made in publicly funded services for children and families, there is often a greater emphasis on accountability. This should serve to encourage a greater consideration of research-based evidence that can better assure program effectiveness.
Quiz: Are you encouraging good homework habits?
Homework is an important element of your child’s school. It reinforces school lessons and instills an early sense of responsibility in your child. Find out if your behavior is promoting good homework.