As a parent, the goal is to provide children with the self-regulation tools to learn, grow, and function as independently as they can in this world, to the best of their ability. Feeding oneself is a skill that is developed throughout infancy and childhood with assistance from parents/caregivers. Since infants and young children are at the stage in development where they are learning to feed themselves, responsive feeding requires a parent/caregiver to be aware, identify, and respond appropriately with emotional support. Responsive feeding is an approach referring to the ability to recognize your child’s hunger cues, satiety cues, and to respond appropriately to those cues. Parent/caregiver behaviors are considered to be responsive if they are prompt, emotionally supportive, contingent, and developmentally appropriate (Black & Aboud, 2011).
Prompt: the ability to follow a child’s behavior within a few seconds
Contingent: the ability to emotionally support the child’s needs based on their cues/behavior
Developmentally Appropriate: the ability to relate to the child’s action, based on where the child is at developmentally
With responsive feeding, there is less risk of overriding the child’s internal hunger and satiety cues. This supports the child’s ability to develop a positive and healthy relationship with food, decrease eating in the absence of hunger, and their ability to regulate emotions and better understand internal hunger cues.
Examples of child cues of hunger and satiety may include:
Once recognizing these cues, parents/caregivers learn how to respond promptly and appropriately to their child based on their individual needs. Support may look like:
For any hunger cues:
For any fullness cues:
When parents and caregivers provide a warm, consistent awareness of their child’s needs, children learn that they are safe in their environment and their parent/caregiver is reliable and trustworthy, which fosters the child’s own ability to self-regulate food intake. The ability to self regulate has been associated with less fussiness during mealtimes, the prevention of using food as a soothing mechanism, and promoting autonomy. Responsive feeding for a child supports and promotes self regulation opportunities to notice, understand, and trust their own body’s cues in order to build healthy decision making choices about food as they grow.
Written by: Nicole Bing, OTD-S
Black, M. M., & Aboud, F. E. (2011). Responsive feeding is embedded in a theoretical framework of responsive parenting. The Journal of nutrition, 141(3), 490-494.