Parenting Resources

Sensitive or Responsive Parenting for Toddlers and Preschoolers

One study looked at the effects of both father-child and mother-child videotaped interactions on subsequent language and cognitive development.   290 children were evaluated at 24 months and 36 months.  Supportive parenting was significantly related to the child’s subsequent development(Tamis-LeMonda CS, et al.  Fathers and Mothers at play with their 2- and 3 – year olds:  contributions to language and cognitive development.  Child Dev.  2004; 75(6): 1806-20.)

The sensitive or responsive parent pays attention to his child, acknowledges the child’s emotion, and may provide some options or distractions.  But the responsive parent should not become emotionally involved in the child’s distress as the child needs to view his parent as stable and dependable.  And the sensitive parent also recognizes the child must experience disappointment and frustration in order to learn creativity and problem solving skills.

The responsive parent adjusts expectations based upon the child’s temperament.  If a shy, slow-to-warm-up child hesitates at the pool’s edge on the first day of swim lessons, a responsive parent may allow the child to initially sit and watch.  A parent of another hesitant child may recognize her child will feel better about herself if she gives it a try – so she encourages her more strongly to participate.


  1. If you haven’t already learned about your child’s temperament, consider taking one of the temperament quizzes on line.  This will help you feel more confident and competent as a parent during the emotionally turbulent stages of development.
  2. Then - parent your child according to her temperament
  3. Structure your child’s day so she feels her environment is stable and secure.
  4. Have some rules for behavior that are consistent and are gently enforced  (See our newsletters on Introduction to Discipline and Discipline Techniques for additional information)
  5.  Acknowledge your child’s emotions  “It looks as if you are disappointed that it is raining so we can’t go to the park.  Is that right?”
  6. Acknowledge your emotions.  “I am feeling frustrated right now because I burned the vegetables.  Can you play with your blocks while I clean up?” Practice this today – and you will find that when you acknowledge your emotions, you actually begin to feel better!
  7. Provide comfort with reassuring physical touches and hugs when appropriate