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Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.

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Responsive Caregiving for Your Young Child

What is responsive caregiving?

Responsive caregiving, or responsive developmental care, is nurturing your young child (ages birth to 3 years) by noticing and meeting their needs. This helps your child feel safe and secure.

Responsive caregiving is important for your child’s social, physical, and emotional health. It helps their brain develop and promotes growth and learning.

You can provide responsive care by noticing, understanding, and responding to your child’s signals. This kind of care is important for all young children, including those who are sick or being cared for in the hospital.

Ways to help your young child feel safe and secure

Father holds young son while reading a book together.

Responsive care helps your child's emotional, physical, and social development.

Talk to your child:

  • Talking to your child helps them feel connected to you and builds language development.
  • Speak, sing, and read to your child throughout the day.
  • Tell your child what is going on around them. Describe what you are doing and wonder out loud about what they might be feeling.

Hold your child and offer nurturing touch:

  • Holding your child helps them manage their emotional and physical feelings. This can lessen emotional and physical distress, such as pain.
  • Children also benefit from supportive physical touch. Try resting a hand on their chest, stroking their forehead, gently cradling their head in your hand, having them hold one of your fingers, or holding their hand, arm, leg, or foot.

Connect with your child during diaper changes and daily care routines:

  • By diapering and tending to your child, you teach them that you can be trusted to attend to their needs.
  • Engage with your child during daily routines by smiling, making eye contact, and talking with them.

Hold your young child during feedings:

  • Young children benefit from being held while nursing, taking a bottle, or being fed through a feeding tube.

Ask your care team if there are special precautions you should take when providing responsive care in the hospital:

Remember, you know your child best. Trust yourself to notice and respond to their cues.

Key points about responsive caregiving

  • Responsive caregiving is noticing and responding to the needs of your child.
  • This type of care is especially important for young children (ages birth to 3 years).
  • Responsive care helps your child feel safe. It also helps them to learn and grow.
  • Types of responsive care are talking, holding, nurturing touch, and connecting.
  • Trust your instincts in responding to your child.
  • Ask your care team about responsive care when your child is sick.

Reviewed: December 2023