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Responding to Your Child in an Appropriate Manner

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This guideline may seem obvious, but responding is more than just giving your child attention. The words are actually saying two different things: 1) make sure you’re responding to your child, not reacting; and 2) make sure your response is appropriate, not overblown or out-of-proportion, too casual or minimal, or too late.

Are you reacting or responding to your child?

Many parents react to their children. That is, they answer with the first word, feeling, or action that comes to mind. It’s a normal thing to do, especially with all the other things people do every day.

When you react, you aren’t making a decision about what outcome you want from an event or action. Even more than that, if you react, you can’t choose the best way to reach the outcome you want.

The time that you take between looking at the event and acting, speaking, or feeling is vital to your relationship with your child.

Responding to your child means that you take a moment to think about what is really going on before you speak, feel, or act. Responding is much harder than reacting because it takes more time and effort. The time that you take between looking at the event and acting, speaking, or feeling is vital to your relationship with your child. That time, whether it be a few seconds, five minutes, or a day or two, allows you to see things more clearly, in terms of what is happening right now and what you want to happen in the long-run.

What is an appropriate response?

An appropriate response is one that fits the situation. Both your child’s age and the specific facts of the occasion are important in deciding what a fitting response is. For example, a fitting response for a baby who is crying differs from a fitting response for a four-year-old or a 10-year-old who is crying. A fitting response for an instance in which a child is running depends on whether that child is running into a busy street or running to the swing set on the playground. Your child’s physical or emotional needs may also shape your decision about a fitting response.

Responding to your child in an appropriate manner allows you to:

  • Think about all the options before you make a decision.
    This will help you choose the best way to get from the current situation to the outcome that you want. By taking time to see a problem from many sides, for instance, you are more likely to choose the most fitting response. For situations that happen often, your well-thought-out response can become almost automatic, like picking up a crying baby.
  • Answer some basic questions:
    Do your words get across what you are trying to say? Do your actions match your words? Are your emotions getting in the way of your decision-making? Do you know the reasons for your child’s actions or behavior?
  • Consider previous, similar events and recall how you handled them.
    You can remind your child of these other times and their outcomes, to show that you are really thinking about your decision. You can use your past experiences to judge the current situation, decide the outcome you want, and figure out how to reach that outcome.
  • Be a more consistent parent.
    Your child will know that you are not making decisions based on whim, especially if you explain how you made your choice. Your child will be more likely to come to you with questions or problems if he or she has some idea of what to expect from you. Warm, concerned, and sensitive responses will also increase the likelihood of your child coming to you with questions or problems. Remember that consistent parenting does not mean inflexible parenting.
  • Offer an example of how to make thoughtful decisions.
    As your child gets older, he or she will know your decision-making process and will appreciate the time you take. Your child might even pattern him or herself after you.
  • Build a solid but flexible bond of trust between you and your child.
    A solid bond holds up to tough situations; a flexible bond survives the changes in your child and in your relationship with your child that are certain to occur.

Now you can either go to the examples, or read on to learn the P in RPM3.

Did you know...?

Parents do matter!
Of all the things that influence your child’s growth and development, one of the most important is the reliable, responsive, and sensitive care your child gets from you. You play a key role in your child’s development, along with your child’s intelligence, temperament, outside stresses, and social environment.

Did you know...?

Parents have a profound influence on children from the beginning of their children’s lives.
As a parent, you can have close contact with your child from the time he or she is small. That type of contact builds trust; with trust comes commitment. Parents who are committed to their child’s well-being can have a very positive effect on their child.

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Last Updated Date: 01/07/2010
Last Reviewed Date: 01/07/2010
Vision National Institutes of Health Home BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Storz Lab: Section on Environmental Gene Regulation Home Machner Lab: Unit on Microbial Pathogenesis Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research Home Bonifacino Lab: Section on Intracellular Protein Trafficking Home Lilly Lab: Section on Gamete Development Home Lippincott-Schwartz Lab: Section on Organelle Biology