Increase in Children Who Receive Warm, Attentive, and Responsive Caregiving

Definition

The Panel Study of Income Dynamics–Child Development Supplement includes one definition of warm caregiving. Parents of children ages 12 and younger who are living with their children were asked to report how often, in the past month, they: 1) hugged or showed physical affection to their child; 2) told their child that they loved him/her; and 3) told their child that they appreciated something he/she did.1

Responsive caregiving can be defined as behavior that is prompt, contingent on the child’s behavior, and appropriate to a child’s needs and developmental state. It is usually conceptualized as a three-step process that includes caregiver observation of the child’s cues, such as movements and vocalizations; the caregiver’s interpretation of these signals; and action: when the caregiver acts swiftly, consistently, and efficiently to meet the child’s needs.2

This indicator, measured at the child level, can be calculated as the number of infants and toddlers (age zero to three) whose parents/guardians report providing warm and responsive caregiving, divided by the total number of infants and toddlers in the state/community.

  • 1. https://psidonline.isr.umich.edu/CDS/cdsi_userGD.pdf
  • 2. Eshel, N., Daelmans, B., Mello, M. C. D., & Martines, J. (2006). Responsive parenting: interventions and outcomes. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(12), 991-998.

To measure responsive behavior, researchers observe the child and mother in their natural environment and note what proportion of the child’s cues bring about a prompt, contingent, and appropriate response. A commonly used inventory is the Infant/Toddler Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment.1 Another observation tool, the Quality of Caregiver-Child Interactions for Infants and Toddlers (Q-CCIIT), was developed to measure the quality of caregiver interactions with infants and toddlers in non-parental care settings. Currently, there is not a national estimate of warm, attentive and responsive caregiving.

Population estimates are not available at the state level. However, a state may be collecting relevant data through a specific program or organization, such as a home visiting program. It is recommended that the state evaluate whether these data are being collected, how, and for whom (i.e., which sub-populations). For instance, home visiting programs that are already collecting survey data on mothers in their program might be able to add questions about warm, attentive, and responsive caregiving using the definition above.

  • 1. National Research Council. (2011). Child and Adolescent Health and Health Care Quality: Measuring What Matters. National Academies Press.

Population and sub-population estimates are not available at the community level. However, an individual community may be collecting relevant data through a specific program or organization, such as a home visiting program. It is recommended that the community evaluate whether these data are being collected, how, and for whom (i.e., which sub-populations). If it is determined that no data on this indicator are currently being collected, the community could work with local organizations to determine how to collect these data moving forward. For instance, home visiting programs that are already collecting survey data on mothers in their program might be able to add questions about warm, attentive, and responsive caregiving using the definition above. Then, once that is implemented, a community could evaluate if there are other locations, such as pediatricians’ offices, where these data could be collected on other mothers of infants and toddlers in the community.

Research Rationale

Parental warmth and affection is positively related to adolescent academic competence, negatively related to teen pregnancy, and associated with deviant peers.1 Parental warmth is even found to encourage children’s use of social support and proactive, problem-focused coping styles.2 Conversely, receiving insufficient levels of parental support can foster feelings of alienation, expressions of hostility and aggression, diminished self-esteem, and antisocial and risk behaviors.34

In developed countries, maternal responsiveness was most often associated with language, cognitive, and psychosocial development. Maternal responsiveness in early childhood is associated with social competence and fewer behavioral problems at three years and increased intelligence quotient and cognitive growth at four-and-a-half years old. Conversely, a lack of maternal responsiveness is often associated with behavioral problems and delayed cognitive development.5

  • 1. Scaramella, L.V., Conger, R.D., Simons, R.L., & Whitbeck, L.B. (1998). Predicting risk for pregnancy by late adolescence: A social contextual perspective. Developmental Psychology, 34(6), pp. 1233-1245
  • 2. McIntyre, J.G. & Dusek, J.B. (1995). Perceived parental rearing practices and styles of coping. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24(4), pp. 499-509.
  • 3. Young, M.H., Miller, B.C., Norton, M.C., & Hill, E.J. (1995). The effect of parental supportive behaviors on life satisfaction of adolescent offspring. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 813-822
  • 4. Excerpted from an achieved Child Trends DataBank indicator: https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/parental-warmth-and-affection/
  • 5. Eshel, N., Daelmans, B., Mello, M. C. D., & Martines, J. (2006). Responsive parenting: interventions and outcomes. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(12), 991-998.