After you have your baby, care is handed over from your midwives to your health visitors. Essentially health visitors are there to support you postnatally. Our main role is to support healthy child growth and development, especially in the first year which is where we might see you more frequently. Lots of health and medical research and health policy concludes attachment plays a huge part of healthy child development.

Responsive Parenting (RP) boosts attachment in both parents and babies. You might discuss responsive parenting with your health visitor at your contacts. Part of our role as health visitors is to support and empower parents with evidence-based parenting techniques. All of the support we offer should be endorsed by Public Health England and the NHS as we work often for both depending on the area.

You might have heard of different terminology for parenting, responsive parenting, baby-led parenting, attachment parenting, attuned parting, reciprocal parenting. All slightly different but follow the same principle, positive parenting techniques that boost attachment and emotional containment and therefore promote healthy child development.

What are the underlying principles of these approaches to parenting and why do professionals, health organisations theorists, scientists and experts encourage parents to follow them?

What is it?

Responsive parenting centres around seeing each child as individuals with their own needs, personalities and abilities. It is believing babies are born with innate survival skills and the ability to communicate their needs to you as their parents.

RP is recognising babies develop new skills around the same age however it is acknowledging children will grow and develop at different stages and will each have areas they naturally prefer and excel and others where they need some encouragement. That is life!

RP can loosely be broken down in to three areas;

  • Observation; parent notices a cue (communication) from their baby, normally movement or vocalisation. This might be crying, yawning, lip smacking etc
  • Interpretation; parent accurately interprets the signal (you might not get this immediately, and that’s ok, you will know when you do!)
  • Action; parent acts quickly, consistently and efficiently to meet their baby’s needs.

This approach allows parents to tune in to their babies unique and natural cycles and patterns rather than trying to implement a routine on to them. It fosters empathy and compassion, understanding babies needs change on a daily and weekly basis. Just like adults some days we sleep well and others we do not. Some days we are really hungry and others we aren’t, babies are no different.  Critical dimensions of responsive parenting include feeding, sleeping, soothing or comforting, and play including physical activity; which all are highly interconnected with each other.

Parents can often be misinformed that babies should confirm to certain behaviours by a specific age such as; sleep through the night, no longer needing to be fed over-night, should stop breast feeding, can ‘self-settle’. These behaviours do not form part of assessed baby development, these are cultural and societal expectations and norms of babies. Responsive parenting encourages parents to ignore the societal ‘should’, hopefully alleviating pressure and expectations… being a parent is hard enough already!

Why is it important?

Responsive parenting helps you to understand and better respond to your children’s needs and can have a significant influence not only on their health and development, but also on yours.

Responsive parenting can have a massive impact on parental emotional and mental health and wellbeing. Research shows parents that are responsive to their baby’s cues, increases parental autonomy, boosting confidence and self-esteem, reducing parental anxiety and depression.

In children RP encourages healthy physical, emotional, mental and social development.  The World Health Organisation conclude; a warm, affectionate, responsive relationship to a parent is as important as food, sanitation and access to medical care.

Responsive parenting improves physical aspects of health by; reducing risk of infant mortality, reducing risk of disease, reducing risk of obesity as well as improving gross motor skills such as running and jumping.

Responsive parenting improves mental and emotional development such as language acquisition, emotional intelligence including self-esteem, intelligence quotient (IQ) and problem-solving abilities, as well as improving infant mental health. It has also been linked to decreasing risk of anxiety and depression in teenagers.

RP is thought to encourage social skills and behaviour, reducing tantrums, increasing self-regulation in toddlers, increasing attention skills and self-care skills, improving school readiness and reducing anti-social behaviour in teens.

Responsive parenting is immensely influential in preparing your child for life…

The Reality factor… how hard is it?

With the parents I work with I focus on honesty. Understanding your child’s needs can be a complicated process, it needs investment of time through observation and consciousness, to make sense of your babies cues and communication.

In our busy lives, time is often something we lack.  This approach can be incredibly demanding and often exhausting, it can make you feel shared and depleted, it is tough giving an emotional response 24 hours a day. Being a parent is hard. However, this approach has so many benefits and you will see the longer-term benefits of your child growing into a confident, secure, independent, well behaved child if you invest the time in the early stages.

The crux of RP is to reduce fear and make children feel safe and protected. When they feel safe and secure they are more confident, their stress levels and stress hormones are low, they feel loved by knowing someone is there for them. As a parent in a busy world, you are not going to see every single cue your baby throws your way. You could blink, sneeze, yawn, have to take a pee and miss one. It is about being mindful and consistent whilst maintaining some personal autonomy, being kind to yourself and without putting any pressure on yourself. Life is pressured enough.