Obstacles to Responsive Care


What is responsive care of children?


This happens when the parent is able to recognize, understand and then accurately respond to the cues and behaviors that their children express, particularly regarding their emotional state of mind.


Why is that important?


When done fairly consistently, responsiveness helps your child form a solid picture or model in their mind that the most important person in their world, you, will be reliably supportive and nurturing. These models build up over time and mostly operate outside of conscious awareness. Children who receive this kind of care will be able to better regulate and understand their emotions as well as those of others around them. They will also have more empathy for others, better self-esteem, and be able to form close relationships throughout their life. 

What if I’m not able to give responsive care to my child?


Care that is consistently unresponsive will lead to the buildup of models that causes your child to view themselves negatively and he or she may have trouble forming close, trusting relationships with others. This can also interfere with their ability to cope with problems and potentially lead to difficulty managing their emotions.

But aren’t some children just more difficult?


Factors such as the temperament of your child and their genetic background also play a role in their development. These factors can make your job easier or more difficult, depending on the mix of child and parent temperaments. This, however, is something that can be handled if you are sensitive to your own as well as your child’s particular makeup, and can then make the necessary adjustments. Keep in mind, no parent is perfect! When you realize you may have missed or misinterpreted what your child is expressing, it is very important to let your child know that. That allows you to repair the relationship and move on in a positive manner.

What's stopping me from being responsive?


There will be always be times when you won't be tuned-in or very responsive to your child for a variety of reasons. Allowing yourself to be distracted by life's everyday demands is probably the biggest factor. However, when this is something that happens on a regular basis, problems can occur and it may be helpful to examine what is happening that is getting in the way of being tuned in to your child.


Also, depression, anxiety, or having inaccurate beliefs about what works best for raising children have all been shown to inhibit a parent's ability to sensitively respond to their children. Also, problems may arise if you are unable to see your child clearly because of traumatic experiences from your own childhood. This can lead to a distorted response to your child that can have very unfortunate consequences. Understanding the triggers to these emotions is critical.

What can I do?

You can read some of the following articles that may help you understand what's going on. You might also check out the programs designed to help parents listed under the Parent Information link.

Here is an animated overview of obstacles to responsive parenting produced by Circle of Security International.


The following are some additional articles and programs that may help if you think this is happening in the relationship with your children:

Overview of the Effect of Neglect

from the Center for the Developing Child- Harvard University

Adverse Childhood Experiences

from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

The Childhood Adversity Narratives

Frank Putnam, MD, UNC at Chapel Hill, NC
William Harris, PhD, Children’s Research and Education Institute

& New School for Social Research, NYC, NY

Alicia Lieberman, PhD, UCSF, San Francisco, CA

Karen Putnam, PhD, UNC at Chapel Hill, NC

Lisa Amaya-Jackson, MD, Duke University, Durham, NC 

What is Psychological Abuse of Children

Samantha Gluck- HealthyPlace


Managing Your Own Emotions: The Key to Positive, Effective Parenting

from Zero to Three


Unconscious Beliefs: What you learned before becoming a parent may be hurting your relationship with your children

from Parenting for Social Change


Parents’ Attitudes and Beliefs: Their Impact on Children’s Development 

from the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development


Harsh, Critical Parenting May Lead to Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

from Scientific American

If Parents are the Helicopters, Then Schools are their Rotors

Jessica Borelli, Ph.D. in the Huffington Post


How a Parent’s Anxious Mind Impacts a Child

from The Huffington Post


Anxiety and Depression

from the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development

How Parents' Stress Can Hurt A Child, From The Inside Out

from Forbes


A Focus on Parental Depression

from The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement 


Parental Depression

from Child Trends

Depressed Parents and the Effects on Their Children

from PsychCentral


How Depression Affects Your Family

from Parents