Center for Mental Health Promotion
Challenges to Responsive Care
As already pointed out, fairly consistent responsive care of your child will have beneficial results for his or her development. However, this is something that often challenges parents to do on a consistent basis.
If you find yourself feeling consistently uncomfortable, or reacting harshly to what your child is doing, then it’s going to be difficult to provide comfort and security for your child when they're upset about something. When these events take place, your child's ability to trust and rely on you will get distorted. Also, their willingness to learn and explore gets dampened because of their anxiety about the reliability of your care. This is important because frequent unresponsive care can create models in your child's mind that can result in them viewing themselves negatively. Consequently he or she may have trouble forming close, trusting relationships with others. This can also interfere with your child's ability to cope with problems and can lead to difficulty managing their emotions. This may turn into a lifelong problem, and your child may struggle with shame and low self-worth through life.
For example, if you regularly become irritated by your child's behavior, it will make it difficult to figure out what the problem is, and may lead to a response on your part that is not helpful, and will likely cause more distress for your child.
These are the times when it’s most important to pause, take a moment and try to imagine what might be going on in your child's mind that's causing the distress. It's also important to wonder what's going on in your mind.
The challenge to being a responsive parent often results from being raised by unresponsive or neglectful parents. For better or for worse, your parents were your teachers on how to raise children. And of course their parents were their teachers. One of the challenges that parents face is holding onto beliefs that were learned from their parents about what works best for raising children . Many of these ideas of course may be helpful, but the challenge is to sort out those beliefs and practices that aren’t so helpful. Our brains build up models of how parenting works based on interactions with our caregivers. Care that was consistently unresponsive can negatively impact the interactions with your children.
An important question to ask is how did your parents typically respond to those experiences you found distressing or traumatic. Was it with sensitive support or with neglect or criticism. Everyone has had the experience as a child of their parents being critical or unresponsive in situations that were upsetting. This, depending on how often it occurred, can make it very difficult to respond to your child's' distress in a helpful manner. We unintentionally recreate the family situation that we are familiar with. Keep in mind that changing your behavior from how you were treated by your parents can unconsciously imply that you are rejecting them which can lead to feeling conflicted. Unless you are aware of this, a consequent fear of loss of their love (whether real or imagined) may hinder your ability to act differently.
The more you are able to recognize these feelings when they come up in your day to day interactions with your children, the more you can manage them and respond in a helpful way to your child’s distress. Highly charged emotional situations with your children can trigger responses that are harmful to forming a trusting relationship. Understanding the triggers to these emotions is critical.
It’s important to keep in mind that 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. Also, a certain amount of this is actually helpful in that it helps the child develop a tolerance for frustration. 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.
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.
Also, if you experience ongoing depression and/or anxiety it can present a serious challenge to being a responsive parent. This can be further complicated if alcohol or substance abuse is being used as self-medication for these problems
The temperament of your child and their genetic background also plays 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 as well as your child’s particular makeup, and can then make the necessary adjustments.
Resources for Challenges to Responsive Care
Here is an animated overview of challenges to responsive parenting produced by Circle of Security International entitled Being-With and Shark Music
Articles that may help you understand what’s happening in the relationship with your children:
The One Subject You Really Need to Study: Your Own Childhood
The School of Life
Childhood `toxic stress’ leads to parenting challenges later on
Lisa Rapaport- Reuters
How to Break the Cycle of Trauma
Your Parenting MoJo- Research-based ideas to help kids thrive
Why We're All Messed Up By Our Childhoods
The School of Life
Does Your Own Childhood Affect Your Parenting?
Parents’ Attitudes and Beliefs: Their Impact on Children’s Development
from the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development
Managing Your Own Emotions: The Key to Positive, Effective Parenting
from Zero to Three
How to Tame Your Triggers Around Your Kids
Jen Lumanlan- lifehacker Parenting
How Triggers From Childhood Shape Our Parenting
Reenactment as a Response to Trauma
Lakeside Therapeutic Education
Child Abuse and Neglect: How We Reenact What We Experienced
A Helpful Way to Conceptualize and Understand Reenactments
Michael S. Levy, Ph.D.
The Effects of Childhood Trauma on Relationships
Overview of the Effect of Neglect
from the Center for the Developing Child- Harvard University
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
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): How They Affect Health and Well-being
From Roots through Recovery
What is Psychological Abuse of Children
Samantha Gluck- HealthyPlace
Child Abuse and Neglect Resources
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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
from the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development
How Parents' Stress Can Hurt A Child, From The Inside Out
A Focus on Parental Depression
from The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement
from Child Trends
How Depression Affects Your Family
Resources for Caregivers- A guide to coping with stress and burnout
A Comprehensive Site for Information About CBD, Cannabis- Its Impact on Society and Health
Talking to Children About Cancer
Birth Injury Center
Addiction Recovery in Higher Education
Memory Care Resources for Veterans
Excellent resource for memory loss from MemoryCare.com
Parent Resource Site for Medical Testing