Parenting Resources

Sensitive or Responsive Parenting

Sensitive or responsive parenting refers to family interactions in which parents are aware of their children’s emotional and physical needs and respond appropriately and consistently.  Sensitive parents are “in tune” with their children.  They understand individual developmental and temperamental differences, respond quickly and appropriately to their children, and provide encouragement and support during times of distress.  These parents are providing a secure base from which children can explore their environments – and thereby learn.  Research shows tremendous benefit to children when parents interact responsively and supportively.  (In some articles sensitive parenting is also referred to as authoritative – see our parenting newsletter on Parenting Styles.)

 In fact, supportive sensitive parenting can possibly mitigate the effects of adverse events and stress in a child’s life.  Researchers followed preschool children (aged 3 – 6 years) for five to ten years and obtained MRI brain scans at early adolescence.  Poverty adversely affected brain growth, but these effects were mediated by positive caregiving(Luby J, et al.  The effects of poverty on childhood brain development:  the mediating effect of caregiving and stressful life events.  JAMA Pediatr  2013; 167(12):1135-42.)

 Another study confirmed this.  When 163 individuals were followed from birth through age 32 years, stress in early childhood and adolescence predicted adverse health outcomes in adults.  “Higher maternal sensitivity, however, buffered these deleterious effects.”  (Farrell AK, et al.  The Timpact of Stress at Different Life Stages on Physical Health and the Buffering Effects of Maternal Sensitivity.  Health Psychol.  2016)