Being a Responsive and Involved Parent

Responsiveness is closely related to nurturing. For infants, responsive caregiving means not only prompt responding to a baby's physical needs interaction. Babies do cry out of boredom and their verbalizatinn—all that interaction. Babies do cry out of boredom, and their verbalization—all that enchanting cooing and babbling—is not just idle practice. They want and expect you to reply, to engage them in "protoconversation," and to light up their day with your interesting facial expressions, their innately preferred stimulus. Verbal responsiveness is essential to language development, but it also critically shapes children's emotional reactions and self-awareness. No matter what a child's age, responsive parenting means really listening to your child, taking the time to understand what he or she is trying to say, and engaging in lots of verbal give-and-take. Sensitive, responsive caregivers also appreciate that every child is different. They respect each child's individual needs and, equally important, teach that parent's own needs should be respected in return.

Involvement is another obvious feature of good parenting, but it may not always be clear what the best way is to go about it. "Involved parenting" doesn't mean driving your child around to lessons or arranging play dates where you sit and talk with other adults. It means direct, one-on-one interactions, in which all of your attention is focused on a joint activity with your child—reading a story, making up a song, building a sand castle, taking a nature walk, helping with homework. Several studies have found a relationship between children's IQ or academic achievement and the amount of time they spend in shared activities with their parents, also known by the familiar phrase "quality time."

What kind of shared activities are best for promoting children's cognitive development? Not, as some parents think, those involving a lot of academic instruction. Parents don't need to drill their preschoolers in phonics or hold flash-card sessions with their young infants to maximize their intellectual potential. Although some kids can benefit, in the short run, from early tutoring in reading or arithmetic, what works best in the long run are measures that foster children's enthusiasm, industry, perseverance, and motivation to learn. For babies, this means playful interactions that focus their interest on specific objects, concepts, and feelings. Recall that babies whose mothers (and presumably fathers) do a better job of encouraging their attention actually end up smarter than those whose mothers make less effort in this regard. Their vocabularies grow faster, they are more exploratory, and they even score higher on IQ tests as early as age four and as late as eighteen years. The best way to sustain babies' interest, given their rapid habituation, is to present variations on a theme—move their arms in different ways, or focus on different body parts, colors, shapes, or sounds. Encouraging children's attention, even very early in infancy, helps foster the persistence and motivation they need to master ever more difficult challenges.

For toddlers and preschoolers, choose something you enjoy—catching butterflies, putting a train set together, baking cookies, gardening, drawing on the computer, folding laundry, and of course, reading. Kids this age want to learn from their parents. They seek us out, following us around the house saying, "I see," and "I do it." By including them, you can teach that there's pleasure in accomplishment, experimentation, and creativity. Working side by side, parents can usually coax their children to do a little more, try a little harder, than they would on their own, giving them a sense of mastery that bolsters their confidence for future endeavors. Working together also gives children a close-up view of mature thinking in action, a model of how to observe, organize, and remember details, and also, ideally, of how to find joy in intellectual discovery.


Driving children around to classes is less important than engaging in intellectual discovery with them.

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 What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Eliot , Lise (2000-10-03), What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, Bantam, Retrieved on 2011-07-18
Folksonomies: parenting babies development infants physiology