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 Maternal (caregiver) sensitivity and responsiveness
Dad feeding baby a bottleFirst of all, you should know that, although much of the literature refers to mother-child attachment, maternal sensitivity and maternal responsiveness these findings apply to fathers, grandparents and other caregivers as well, including early childhood personnel. 

Second, sensitivity and responsiveness are related concepts. Sensitivity refers to how well a caregiver reads the infant's cues, while responsiveness refers to how well one reacts to these cues. Parents who are high in sensitivity have an accurate perception of their infants' likes and dislikes and ways of comforting them

Cartoon of speaker giving lecture  I have a question? Could you give an example of sensitivity & responsivity?

Why, yes, I am glad you asked that question!

Infants' behavior gives cues to their emotional states. Their facial expressions, body language, and vocalizations all combine to give information on what it is they want at the moment. For example,

  • When Julia is hungry, she usually looks at me, smiles and, if she is being held, tries to arch herself downward so she can get in a position to breastfeed.
  • If she is in her crib and hungry, she will pull herself up, look over the bars and cry.
  • When her teeth are hurting her, she puts her fist in her mouth and cries.
  • When she wants something, she will stare fixedly at it and, lately, has begun reaching for it.
  • When she finds something very interesting, she coos or babbles.
These are just a few examples of the many different ways in which an infant can communicate. A caregiver  high in sensitivity would be able to differentiate among these cues, and, for example, know when the baby has teething pain and put some oral anesthetic on her gums. A caregiver low in sensitivity might try feeding her, then change her diaper and then try to walk her around the house to amuse her. The result of this lack of sensitivity would be a baby who continued crying and in pain, to the frustration of both her and the caregiver.

    A caregiver high in responsiveness would consistently and appropriately respond to the infant's expressions of distress, interest and happiness. Infants differ in temperament, in likes and dislikes, and a caregiver who is responsive not only recognizes what a particular infant needs or wants but also is effective at providing it. For example, Julia is a very active, alert baby. She wants a variety of stimulation most of the day (all of the time except for when she is tired and wants to sleep). She likes to crawl around on the floor and play with her toys. If she has to be carried around or confined all day, she really gets cranky (which she shows by first babbling in a cranky tone of voice, and if that doesn't get any results, by crying). On the other hand, if she has been crawling around a lot, she wants to be picked up and carried around. Oddly enough, she likes background noise, particularly when she is tired. One thing that is almost certain to get her to go to sleep is taking her for a walk down the busy street which is on the next block. In any given day, I, her father, and sisters will vary our behavior many, many times to keep Julia comfortable, amused and happy. One fact that her father has noted is that I often have an idea what would work to soothe her when no one else does. One reason for this (in addition to the fact that I have raised three other children) is that I spend more time with her than anyone else - she has not been away from me more than two hours at a time since she was born, and probably no more than twelve hours total in her entire almost seven months of life. Having had more opportunities to read her cues, to try a variety of her responses, it is not surprising that I often had more of an idea what might be the best thing to do at any given time.

??? Just something for you to think about..... ????

Given the apparent relationship sensitivity and responsiveness have to time spent with an infant, should we not be concerned about the high turnover in many daycare centers, where a child can easily go through three or more caregivers in a year?
??? Another something for you to think about ????
Margaret Mead, one of the most accomplished women and probably best-known anthropologist of our time, said that, yes, at one point she had argued that quality of time was more important than quantity of team but "that doesn't mean women should be having children to put them in day care twelve hours a day, either."

(Yes, Margaret Mead was a working mother. She also had the money, reputation and personality to garner more assistance than most of us will see in three lifetimes. But, maybe she had a point. What do you think?)

This is one area where a lot of research has been done, particularly on the development of attachment and its relationship to many, many other factors such as parent characteristics, child adjustment, etc. Personally, I find this to be a fascinating area and could spend hours reading about it. Since you may not totally agree with me (although I can't imagine why not), I have included two abstracts below.
-ERIC_NO- ED356059
-TITLE- Infant Mental Health: Implications for Parenting in Limited Resource Families.
-AUTHOR- Honig, Alice Sterling

-ABSTRACT- Parents of babies have many tasks to master. Beyond basic physical skills needed to care for children, such as diapering or preparing formula, parents need emotional wisdom to relate to their child. Parents with limited resources should know that as long as they provide the emotional nourishment that babies need, their baby will flourish. The essence of quality caregiving lies in the emotional bond that is forged between parents and their child. Parent bonding involves parents' feelings of tenderness towards the baby and a deep investment in its well-being. Research has shown that early parent bonding facilitates babies' development of secure attachment. Caregivers need several special skills to help babies develop a secure attachment to them.
    Caregivers should be attentive and tender to babies. In addition, they should try to understand and cope with a baby's difficult behavior. Planning a baby's play and encouraging a baby's language development through conversation and reading aloud are also important. Caregivers should learn a wide variety of teaching techniques to enhance an infant's development. If bonding is to be successful, parents may have to free themselves from old prohibitions and feelings of shame.

-ERIC_NO- EJ458095
-TITLE- The Multiple Caretaker Paradox: Data from Holland and Israel.
-AUTHOR- IJzendoorn, Marinus H. van; And Others
-JOURNAL_CITATION- New Directions for Child Development; n57 p5-24 Fall 1992

-ABSTRACT- Data from studies conducted in Holland and Israel on child-parent and child-caretaker relationships indicated that children develop attachments to nonparental caretakers. Data supported an integration model of attachment which postulates that secure attachments can compensate for insecure attachments in children's development.

  Internet field trip # 2 

Read all instructions first.

1. Go to the ERIC search web page
2. Enter ATTACHMENT for the first keyword
3. Enter EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT for  second keyword
4. You should get close to 100 hits. 
5. Follow the links which seem most interesting to you.

Click here to go to the ERIC (Educational Research and Information Clearinghouse) database 

 Click here to go on to the next section of the course (on Early Childhood Development)


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