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Can We Educate Parents on How to Be More Responsive to Their Children? :

July 16, 2021

Parent responsivity, which includes awareness and appropriate responses to children’s emotional and cognitive states and provision of appropriate support in learning, is associated with child well-being in multiple ways.

Parent responsivity, which includes awareness and appropriate responses to children’s emotional and cognitive states and provision of appropriate support in learning, is associated with child well-being in multiple ways.

Can we train parents to become more responsive to their children? Nina Sokolovic and colleagues from the University of Toronto were specifically interested in the aspects of various parenting programs that are more effective in enhancing parent responsivity. The results of their meta-analysis are being early released today in Pediatrics (10.1542/peds.2020-033563).

What worked? Programs that incorporated some didactic teaching in combination with observation, rehearsal, and feedback were most effective. Other aspects that were effective included inclusion of homework assignments and a narrow focus on teaching responsivity.

Parent responsivity seems to be like any learned skill. You see how it’s done, you practice (both at the session and in homework), and you receive feedback. You then practice again until you get it right. It seems so simple, doesn’t it?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Drs. Erin Roby, Caitlin Canfield, and Alan Mendelsohn at New York University, in an invited commentary, (10.1542/peds.2021-050610) note an important caveat to the findings in Sokolovic et al’s analysis. Very few of the studies analyzed in the meta-analysis included families from racial and ethnic minority groups or low-income families, so these findings may not be generalizable to these groups. However, Drs. Roby, Canfield, and Mendelsohn also believe that using the effective strategies that Sokolovic et al outlined should be used in programs that seek to reduce disparities by promoting parent responsivity.

I encourage you to read both the article and the thoughtful commentary. It may give you ideas for incorporating some of these strategies into your everyday practice. Maybe you can model responsivity when a toddler is seeking attention during well-child visits or can provide feedback on how a parent responds. You can even give homework, maybe when you give the family a Reach Out and Read book: “When you read this book together, try asking your child questions about the pictures and see what they say. Or make the animal sounds together.” There are lots of suggestions that we can give parents so that they can practice being responsive to their children.

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