The example below will give you a better idea of what it means to respond to your child in an appropriate manner. As you read, think about these questions:
Abby spends the day at a day care center while Caroline is at work; Caroline drops her off at 7:30 a.m. and returns for her at 5:30 p.m. When they get home in the evening, Caroline gets dinner ready while Abby sits in her high chair. Caroline keeps the chair turned so that Abby is facing her while she cooks, so that they can watch, smile at, and talk to each other.
It takes Caroline a little longer to make dinner because she often stops to play peek-a-boo or bends down to talk to Abby at her eye-level. They have their own conversations, in which Abby “talks” and Caroline “answers.” If Abby is cranky or upset, Caroline uses this time to calm her down and figure out why she’s being fussy. Caroline has found many ways to keep Abby calm as a result of this dinnertime contact, that are also helpful when the two are out of the house running errands.
That time with Abby, while I’m cooking, is really important to me. I can connect with her, get to know her better. I look forward to it, even after a full day at work. It has helped me to learn what she likes and what she doesn’t.
Caroline is right about the importance of her dinnertime contact with Abby. Research shows that children need to spend positive, engaging, playful time with their parents each day.1 This “special” time allows parents to bond with children, to learn what makes them smile or laugh, what kinds of noises they respond to, how they respond, and what feelings their toddlers’ “words” convey. Early and consistent communication between parent and child is essential to forming attachments, as well as to building better emotional, intellectual, and social development. Setting aside this kind of time every day also lets kids learn about their parents. They can tune in to facial expressions, body language, and tone-of-voice to know their caretakers better.
In a perfect world, you could spend all day, every day with your child, never missing a meal or a moment of togetherness. In the real world, however, this is often not the case. Regardless of how you manage it, you should try to make time for this kind of interaction with your child every day. The specifics of where, how, or when you spend time with your child aren’t as important as the actual time you spend with your child.
If your child won’t sit in a highchair for very long, put some toys on the floor and let your child play there while you’re in the kitchen. If you’re driving here and there, talk to your child as you drive, pointing out things you see or singing songs. If you see your child in the mornings, get into a routine for getting dressed together so that you can interact with him or her. You can also include the other people in your family in this time together, so that your child becomes more comfortable in the family setting. The important part is getting to know your child and letting your child get to know you.