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Sensitive Responsiveness and the Bigger Picture

handsIs it enough that our children survive? Is it enough that our children grow up into adults who can be functioning members of society–who can choose to marry and have children, who can get and keep a job and pay their bills? Should we be thinking about the bigger picture?

And what is that bigger picture?

I recently read a study published this year in the Journal of Human Lactation that compared low-income and middle- to higher-income women on their perspectives of breastfeeding. It found that higher-income women were more likely to want to breastfeed despite the challenges and to seek out support to make that happen. Low-income women also wanted to breastfeed but were OK with switching to formula if they encountered any challenges. And low-income women were more likely to see breastfeeding less as a relationship tool and more as simply a feeding choice, and that bottle-feeding freed up time for new moms by allowing her to shift feeding duties to someone else. Middle- and higher-income women were more likely to see breastfeeding both as a nutritional/health benefit and in light of relationship with the new baby; their challenges centered more on how to continue breastfeeding when returning back to work.

The point of me bringing this up is that, in regards to this study, breastfeeding can be seen as simply a feeding choice on par with formula, based on how much time a woman feels she has, or it can be seen as a bonding mechanism in addition to its nutritional/health benefits that are in fact superior to formula. It’s a matter of perspective, but a choice that can have far-reaching repercussions. As the great bulk of research on breastfeeding shows, the nutritional and health benefits far outweigh that of formula, and the bonding aspect tends to be easier with breastfeeding than bottle-feeding.

So is it enough in this case that babies just get fed, whether by formula or breastfeeding, without regards to the latter’s benefits? Should we just be happy that babies are getting fed at all? Anyone who works to support women with breastfeeding, or to promote breastfeeding, or to research breastfeeding–and there are a whole lot of people in this area–beg to differ.

Attachment Parenting is the same sort of thing. Attachment Parenting is an approach that embodies sensitive responsiveness and literally be applied to almost any parenting style or method. And there is a lot of research showing not only the benefits, but the importance, even essentiality, of raising children with secure attachment. And sensitive responsiveness is well-researched to be at the crux of developing a secure attachment within a child. But there are also a lot of people who see it as a bonus, but not something that is crucial, to a person’s life success–just as breastfeeding can be viewed: just something that’d be nice to do if we have enough time to do it.

The big picture is that sensitive responsiveness in parenting does very much matter. Yes, kids can survive without it. Yes, children can grow up to be fairly functioning members of society whether or not they have a secure attachment or received sensitive responsiveness from their caregivers, but with it, they can do so much more: They can be at peace with themselves and others, compassionate and empathetic, connected and confident in promoting health, peace and good will toward one another.

From the point of view of many in our society, these are “nice” traits to have, but not as central to the value systems for personal success, which may more often include competition and a certain amount of self-preservation. Yet, the bulk of attachment research shows sensitive responsiveness and secure attachment to be central to healthy child development.

Sensitive Responsiveness and the Bigger Picture

Rita Brhel

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APA Reference
Brhel, R. (2014). Sensitive Responsiveness and the Bigger Picture. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 28 Jun 2014
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