Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

August 23, 2017

What is Responsive Feeding?

By: Heidi Moreland, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, CLC

Responsive Feeding: Mealtime guidance that depends upon the feeder’s ability to read the eater’s cues in order to make the meal manageable, enjoyable and successful for the eater, without giving up developmentally appropriate structure and expectations.

Every parent has a parenting style which is formed by their own personality, the way their own parents interacted with them, the community in which they live, and how the child’s personality responds and interacts to that style. Their interactions are characterized in part by how they respond to their kids and their views on how to set limits, with some parents leaning more towards being more permissive, others towards being more authoritarian.

The truth is that both responsiveness and limits are important. Responsive parenting includes a balance between being the authority, while still recognizing their children’s cues and responding positively to them. Parents acknowledge the child’s needs and desires, and may provide developmentally appropriate reasons for the rules, but have high expectations for their kids and expect that rules will be followed. Research has shown that kids of responsive (also called “authoritative”) parents have higher levels of attachment, are more secure and have more self-control.

This role evolves over time. When children are infants, the parents’ primary job is to notice the child’s needs by responding promptly. However, in order to mature past the demanding nature of infancy, children need to develop the ability to safely and successfully interact with a changing world independently. This means that parents can’t just respond to the child’s needs and expect them to mature, they must also teach their child to cope with stress and novelty (Landry, Smith, and Swank, 2006) by allowing them opportunities to be independent, even if they struggle a little. This should look different for each child and family, and your expectations should change over time as your child matures, but it will continue to follow the same process.

This style of parenting seems to work well for developing healthy eaters. Most research that looks at parenting style and eating finds that kids of responsive (authoritative) parents are more likely to develop self-regulation, be less picky, and have less food battles than parents of authoritarian or permissive styles.

Most parents do this naturally in many areas, but struggle with applying this to the mealtime relationship. Check in next week for a little bit more on how this applies to feeding and the mealtime relationship.

Sources:

Darling, N., & Steinberg, L. (1993). Parenting style as context: An integrative model. Psychological bulletin, 113(3), 487.

Hughes, S. O., Power, T. G., Fisher, J. O., Mueller, S., & Nicklas, T. A. (2005). Revisiting a neglected construct: parenting styles in a child-feeding context.Appetite, 44(1), 83-92.

Landry, S. H., Smith, K. E., & Swank, P. R. (2006). Responsive parenting: establishing early foundations for social, communication, and independent problem-solving skills. Developmental psychology, 42(4), 627.

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