Video: An Introduction to Responsive & Stimulating Caregiving

  • Responsive and stimulating caregiving in early childhood forms a foundation for positive lifelong development.
  • Early childhood programs can support adult caregivers of young children by equipping caregivers with skills to support their children’s development and by providing additional supports for families facing extreme stressors.
  • Research suggests that stable and nurturing relationships positively influence young children’s cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical development, yet extreme stressors in adults’ lives can prevent parents and caregivers from engaging responsively with children.

In Practice

Early childhood programs support adult caregivers of young children in different ways. Different approaches address diverse needs according to local knowledge and practices. Some programs focus content on general caregiving and integrate health, nutrition, and early stimulation (usually for families with children younger than age 3). Others focus on specific aspects of caregiving, such as school readiness, and emphasize emergent literacy or math skills, usually for pre-primary aged children.

Sample service delivery strategies include:

  • Integrating early stimulation messages and materials into home visiting programs that are administered by the health or nutrition sectors, or training community members to conduct home visits.
     
  • Training facilitators to model and coach parents in group sessions regarding ways to promote positive parent-child interactions.
     
  • Combining home visiting with group sessions.
     
  • Using a peer-to-peer model, where mothers who have been trained in positive parenting practices serve as peer educators for other mothers in their communities either during routine community activities (e.g., washing clothes or collecting water) and/or through home visits.
     
  • Sponsoring media campaigns that deliver simple targeted messages, which are considered one component of a broader behavior change strategy. Examples of media include radio, television, billboards and cell phones.

In practice, many early childhood programs that target pre-primary aged children have a secondary focus on parent engagement and/or education activities. This is mostly done in group sessions where trained facilitators share information about a specific topic with parents, such as reading aloud with young children, while also demonstrating practices and giving parents feedback on interactions with children. See also Parent Engagement in Learning. 

Tips

Develop contextually relevant program content.

Programs should build on successful parenting and caregiving practices that are already in place. In many contexts, designing explicit mechanisms to involve fathers or male caregivers in parenting programs is effective in generating their participation.

Adapt who and how to deliver program content to the local context.

When designing service delivery mechanisms, consider existing programs and the skill sets and responsibilities of current service providers. The recommended intensity and duration of parenting programs varies by context.

Train and support service providers.

Ensure that practitioners are trained in holistic child development as well as how to interact with parents and caregivers respectfully and sensitively. Be sure not to overburden service providers with additional tasks. See also Supporting Early Childhood Practitioners.

Provide opportunities for parents and caregivers to practice skills.

Give parents and caregivers opportunities to practice new activities with their children and receive feedback. This is more effective at promoting behavior change than simply sharing new knowledge with parents.

Ensure messages for parents and caregivers are simple and concrete.

Provide messages and activities that parents and caregivers can replicate at home with their children in their daily routines (e.g., bathing, changing diapers). Tailor guidance regarding home activities to specific age ranges, while following a structured curriculum that establishes critical messages and outlines how they should be explored with parents (e.g., through play, demonstrations and practice). Encourage the use of low-cost, locally available materials that support children’s play. See also Playful Learning.

Include all parents and caregivers.

Show and tell parents and caregivers how they can support their children’s development and learning – including early literacy – no matter what their level of education or literacy.

Incorporate additional supports for families at greater risk for adverse outcomes.

Many caregivers possess the knowledge and skills that would allow them to appropriately care for their young children, yet they face obstacles that prohibit them from implementing their skills and knowledge. Additional measures above and beyond routine program activities are required to adequately support these families.

Assess program progress.

Track parents’ and caregivers’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to key practices. Conduct child assessments across domains to support monitoring and evaluation efforts and continued program learning and improvement. See also Monitoring and Evaluation.

Tools

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Advanced Search

Parent Education Programmes for Early Childhood Development: Reflections of Practitioners

This paper reviews practitioner experience in implementing parent engagement programs in South Africa aiming to improve early childhood development.
Baker, J. 2015
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Complementary Feeding: A report of the Global Consultation, Summary of Guiding Principals

This resource provides guidelines and recommendations for program managers and designers to promote optimal nutrition and feeding practices with young children and their families.
World Health Organization, 2002.
View

Parenting Education Guidebook: Going to School

Booklet 9 (page 135) of this guidebook provides parents with information on what children should be able to do when they start school, and how parents can help support their children's development; the guidebook is available in English and 6 other languages.
UNESCO, 2011
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Facilitator's Handbook for Parenting Education

This is the facilitator's guide for those implementing the parenting education program.
UNESCO, 2011
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Early Learning and Development: Ideas for Parents and Caregiver

This is a sample poster that depicts positve parent or caregiver-child interactions spanning the birth to 4 years age range.
UNICEF
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Parental/Primary Caregiver Capacity Building Training Package

In this document prepared by the Department of Social Development in South Africa in collaboration with UNICEF, Session 4 on Creativity and Play provides information that can be used in sessions with caregivers on incorporating play into day to day parenting to support children's development.
UNICEF, 2008
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Facilitator's Manual: Parenting Support in Africa

This is a manual for facilitators of parent programs in Africa (though applicable to developing countries more widely); includes facilitator planning guides and handouts around key topics such as appropriate parental support for different stages in children's lives; also includes home assignments and parent reflection forms.
Catholic Relief Services, 2014
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Sharing Stories Together

This simple guide highlights how parents can get involved in teaching their children to read.
Aga Khan Foundation, 2003
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Reading for Children: Facilitator's manual

This manual guides facilitators through parent training to encourage and empower them to read with their children; includes activities, discussion topics, and techniques for active reading and story-telling.
Aga Khan Foundation
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Program P: A Manual for Engaging Men in Fatherhood, Caregiving, and Maternal and Child Health

A manual that provides strategies for engaging men in caregiving activities start at pregnancy and through a child's first years.
Promundo, CulturaSalud, REDMAS
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Ending Corporal and Humiliating Punishments: A Manual to Inform and Empower Fathers, Mothers and Caregivers of Children

A manual of exercised and activities to conduct with parents that promote positive discipline rather than corporal or humiliating disciplinary practices.
Promundo, Save the Children, Bernard Van Leer
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School Readiness and Transitions

This is a guide that compiles evidence and recommendations for programs that support childrens school readiness. Chapter 5 explores the family and home environment.
UNICEF
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The Whole Child Development Guide

This guide describes how children develop, learn, and engage with the world from ages 0-8 years.
LEGO Foundation
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Care for Child Development Package

This is the suite of materials that comprises the Care for Development Package which integrates health, nutrition and development in early childhood programs. It includes the participants' manual, facilitator notes, facilitator guidelines for conducting a planning workshop, a planning handbook for program managers and planners and counseling cards.
WHO & UNICEF, 2015
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Parenting Cards

These are sample child development cards from Save the Children's early childhood program in Bangladesh.
Save the Children Bangladesh
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Early childhood development kit: Guideline for caregivers

This toolkit provides information for caregivers working with young children in emergency situations to organize activities and make play materials with locally available resources.
UNICEF
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A Guide to Parents to Help Their Child Develop Through Play

This document provides guidance to parents on supporting children at different ages to develop through the provision of playful activities.
Right To Play
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Featured Case Studies

These case studies provide examples of how programs can support responsive and stimulating caregiving in practice.

A Community-Based Conscious Discipline Program to Reduce Corporal Punishment in the Caribbean (Saving Brains Grenada)

The Windward Islands Research and Evaluation Foundation, through a train-the-trainer model, supports home visitors to change cultural perceptions and parenting practices to reduce harsh punishment of children and promote healthy brain development.

Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) Grenada

Program P and the MenCare Campaign

The MenCare Campaign is being implemented by various organizations in 40 countries. Components include media campaigns that promote a positive image of fatherhood and advocacy to promote policies that secure equal caregiving and healthy parenting practices. A key tool of MenCare is Program P (P for padre in Spanish or pai in Portuguese), an adaptable resource that provides concrete strategies and activities to actively engage men in caregiving from pregnancy through a child’s early years.

Promundo, REDMAS, EME, Sonke Gender Justice, Save the Children, Rutgers & the MenEngage Alliance Global

Additional Programs

Click the links below to view profiles of programs using responsive and stimulating caregiving.

Early Inspiration

Early Inspiration is an intervention program that provides training and support for parents and ECD practitioners to maximize young children’s learning and social adjustment capabilities in South Africa through facilitator training as well as a strong emphasis on family home visits for the most at-risk children & families.
Early Inspiration South Africa
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Reach Up Early Childhood Parenting Programme

The Reach Up Early Childhood Parenting Programme provides a structured training course for home visitors to help parents improve their child’s development. It is based on the successful Jamaica Home Visit Programme.
Reach Up and Learn Global
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Integrated Intervention Targeted at Deprived Preschool Children

This intervention is developing, piloting and evaluating a reformed curriculum for home visiting services and group meetings run by FAMI, the national parenting program in Colombia targeting disadvantaged families and children under 2 in rural areas.
Universidad de los Andes Colombia
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The home environment, particularly the kinds of interactions that caregivers foster with young children, greatly influences young children’s cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and physical development. Stable and nurturing relationships in early childhood are the foundation of lifelong development. More specifically:

  • Sensitive and responsive relationships between adults and children are associated with improved cognitive, social, and emotional development for children.
  • Babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life have lower rates of respiratory infections, less frequent episodes of diarrhea, and improved growth and development – with longer-term benefits, as well. 
  • Responsive feeding, when caregivers respond to the child’s cues regarding hunger and satiation, provide verbal stimulation during feeding, and introduce self-feeding skills, can be effective in promoting optimal nutrition.
  • Language-rich early childhood settings where children are engaged in verbal interactions (e.g., conversations, singing songs) and exposed to the written word (e.g., books, newspapers) positively impact children’s language development and school readiness. 
  • Developmentally appropriate learning activities provided at home (e.g., play with numbers, building with blocks) improve children’s cognitive development and school readiness.
  • Prolonged exposure to psychosocial and environmental stressors (e.g., maternal depression, abuse, neglect) negatively impact children’s development.

Programs aimed at supporting parents and caregivers have been shown to positively impact their knowledge and practices related to child development. Findings include:

 

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Young children develop in an environment of relationships.

A synthesis of the scientific evidence on early childhood development and an analysis of gaps between science and policy with implications for policy and practice.
National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004.
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Serve and Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry (English)

This video illustates how brain circuitry develops through responsive relationships betwen infants and adult caregivers.
Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
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Serve and Return Interaction Shapes Brain Circuitry (Spanish)

This video illustates how brain circuitry develops through responsive relationships betwen infants and adult caregivers.
Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
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Responsive parenting: Interventions and outcomes

A review of the effects of responsive caregiving on children's physical, mental and social well-being.
Eshel, N., Daelmans, B., Cabral de Mello, M., & Martines, M., 2006.
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Why men’s caregiving matters for young children: Lessons from the MenCare campaign.

This paper highlights the roles of fathers in children's development and lessons learned for engaging fathers in programs (page 51).
Barker, G., 2015.
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Early Childhood In Focus: Supporting Parenting

This publication reviews parenting interventions in industrialized Western nations after provided a review of research on parenting more broadly.
Bernard van Leer Foundation
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Early Childhood Matters: Responsive Parenting as a Strategy to Prevent Violence

This publication shares examples from diverse program models that link responsive parenting in early childhood to violence prevention.
Bernard van Leer Foundation
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Fathers and early learning: What we know

This paper summarizes research on engaging fathers in young children's lives.
McAllister, F., Burgess, A., Kato, J., & Barker, G., 2013.
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Early childhood stimulation interventions in developing countries: A comprehensive literature review.

A comprehensive review of the effectiveness of early stimulation programs in developing countries.
Baker-Henningham, H. & Lopez Boo, F., 2010.
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Strategies for reducing inequalities and improving developmental outcomes for young children in low-income and middle-income countries.

This paper is a systematic review of the effectiveness of early childhood development interventions across varying program models.
Engle, P. L., et. al., 2011.
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InBrief: The Science of Neglect (English)

This document reviews the research regarding the effects of neglect on young children's deelopment and present implications for policy.
Harvard Center on the Developing Child
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InBrief: The Science of Neglect (Spanish)

This document reviews the research regarding the effects of neglect on young children's deelopment and present implications for policy.
Harvard Center on the Developing Child
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Parenting education and support: maximizing the most critical enabling environment

This chapter discusses parenting and programs designed to support parenting with implications for future program efforts based on the research evidence.
Britto, P. R., & Engle, P, 2015.
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A Review of Published Literature on Supporting and Strengthening Child-Caregiver Relationships

A reveiew of research literature on parenting programs that operate in the context of AIDS and poverty.
Richter, L. M. & Naicker, S., 2013.
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Strategies to avoid the loss of developmental potential in more than 200 million children in the developing world

This paper is a systematic review of studies on early childhood interventions to assess what is most effective in program models with implications for future interventions and program design.
Engle, et. al., 2007.
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Early intervention and care giving: Evidence from the Uganda Nutrition and Child Development Program

This paper presents the results of an integrated nutrition and education program for young children and their families in Uganda where the outcomes were parents' attitudes and behaviors.
Britto, P. R., Engle, P., & Alderman, H., 2007.
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Improving quality of mother-infant relationship and infant attachment in socioeconomically deprived community in South Africa: randomised controlled trial

This paper presents results of a home-visiting intervention conducted by community workers to support new parents in forging secure attachments with their infants in South Africa.
Cooper, P. J., et. al., 2009.
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Evaluation of the Better Parenting Program

This paper presents the results of a mixed methods evaluation of a comprehensive early childhood developmnt program that focuses on parents of young children in Jordan and reaches families through a variety of service delivery mechanisms across multiple ministries and sectors.
Al Hassan, 2009.
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The relevance of delivery mode and other programme characteristics for the effectiveness of early childhood intervention

This paper is a review of empirical research on early childhood interventions and compares the impact of different program models on children cognitive and socioemotional outcomes.
Blok, H., et. al., 2005.
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Parenting programs: An important ECD intervention strategy

This is a summary of the research literature on parenting programs including descriptions of common models and their impact short- and long-term.
Evans, J. L., 2007.
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Parent Education Programmes for Early Childhood Development: Reflections of Practitioners

This paper reviews practitioner experience in implementing parent engagement programs in South Africa aiming to improve early childhood development.
Baker, J. 2015
View

Violence against young children: What does gender have to do with it?

This paper reviews evidence on gender-based violence and violence against young children and explores considerations for intervention.
Barker, G. and Nascimento, M, 2010.
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State of the World’s Fathers: Executive Summary: A MenCare Advocacy Publication

A summary of research findings integrating topic areas such as men's involvement in caregiving, sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternal and child health, and violence prevention.
Levtov R, van der Gaag N, Greene M, Kaufman M, and Barker, G., 2015.
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Helping children develop healthy eating habits. Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development.

This paper summarizes research regarding the development of eating habits and the promotion of health eating habits.
Black, M. M. and Hurley, K. M., 2013.
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From Best Practices to Breakthrough Impacts: A Science-Based Approach to Building a More Promising Future for Young Children and Families

This paper is a synthesis of scientific research regarding early childhood development with a focus on practice and policy.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2016.
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Complementary Feeding: A report of the Global Consultation, Summary of Guiding Principals

This resource provides guidelines and recommendations for program managers and designers to promote optimal nutrition and feeding practices with young children and their families.
World Health Organization, 2002.
View

Review of implementation processes for integrated nutrition and psychosocial stimulation interventions.

This paper is a systematic review of research studies on integrated early childhood programs with a focus on implementation processes such as duration and intensity of programs and includes recommendations for integrated programs based on findings.
Yousafzai, A. K. & Aboud, F., 2014
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The Promise of Preschool in Africa: A Randomized Impact Evaluation of Early Childhood Development in Rural Mozambique.

This paper is an impact evaluation study of an integrated, community-based preschool model implemented in Mozambique with a focus on child and family outcomes.
Martinez, S., Naudeau S., & Pereira, V., 2012
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Measuring the quality of home-visiting services: A review of the literature.

A literature review looking at the quality of home visiting programs, key components that affect quality, and an overview of existing instruments for measuring quality.
Inter-American Development Bank, 2015
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Investing in Young Children

This document is a guide for early childhood program and policy design with a synthesis of relevant research in the field of early childhood. Note 3.2 focuses on programs that target the home environment.
Naudeau, S., Kataoka, N., Valerio, A., Neuman, M., & Elder, L., 2010.
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