By Michelle Saint Hilarie


Creating and establishing a healthy and loving relationship with your child is a key factor in supporting their development, learning and well-being. Children begin to develop emotional and social skills at a very young age. From the moment a child is born, they are dependent on caregivers to provide them with love and support to meet all of their needs. By responding to a baby’s cries, coos and cuddling with them, you are setting the foundation for building their emotional and social skills.

As they grow and start to communicate with spoken words, their needs expand into making sense of their world by interacting with and watching the adults and children around them. To support their emotional and social needs, parents or other caregivers need to interact with all children in a respectful, responsive and reciprocal manner.

The First R: RESPECT

Respectful relationships are critically important in developing a child’s sense of belonging and how they interact with the world around them. Here are some ideas for creating and teaching respectful relationships with a young child:

  • Give your child undivided love and attention. We live in a society with many distractions such as cell phones, social media and television. Other stresses such as work or relationships can also have an impact. Set aside time each day to show your child you care about them by respecting their needs and giving them some of your time.
  • Model respectful relationships. Young children learn how to treat one another through the behaviors and interactions of the adults around them. When they see adults speaking and treating each other respectfully, they in turn will also do the same.
  • Speak to your children in a respectful tone and listen to them when they speak. Children who hear discouraging words consistently become disconnected. When we talk with a child at their eye-level they begin to comprehend what we are saying. Paying attention to what and how we are speaking to them will help them develop respect toward others as well.



Encouraging responsive one-on-one exchanges and relationships is also critically important for children to build trust, safety and security. Responsiveness enables children to feel connected and become confident communicators and learners. Here are some ideas for creating and teaching respectful relationships with a young child:

  • Show your child you are supportive and caring. You can do this by helping them identify their feelings and work through any challenges with their emotions they may have. For example, when your child is upset, talk through the situation to help them identify the feelings they are experiencing. Use feeling words such as happy, sad, mad or glad and talk about what the feeling means. Always reassure them that the feelings they are having are healthy and it’s how you deal with your feelings that is most important.
  • Understanding your child’s temperament. Temperament is a set of in-born traits that organize the child’s approach to the world. They are influential in the development of the child’s individual personality. These traits also determine how the child learns about the world around her/him. By learning about your child’s temperament, you are better equipped to help them understand the world around them and it reduces the frequency of challenging behaviors. You can search the internet for more resources and information about different types of temperaments and how to better understand your child’s unique and individual needs.



A reciprocal relationship between a parent and their child is about mutual respect, cooperation, shared responsibility and shared problem solving. In a reciprocal parent-child relationship, adults are sensitive to children’s needs and respect their feelings and ideas. Children are also taught about empathy, responsibility and trust. Here are some ideas for creating and teaching reciprocal relationships with a young child:

  • Ask children open-ended questions. It is easy to want to answer all of your child’s questions or solve their problems for them. However, a great way to build their thinking and problem-solving skills is by asking open-ended questions, such as: “What do you think the answer is?” or “Can you describe what happened?” or “How could we work together to solve this?” Asking open-ended questions is also a wonderful way to stretch children’s curiosity, reasoning ability, creativity and independence. It also helps them feel important by asking for their feedback and engaging in a reciprocal conversation.
  • Participate in activities you both enjoy. When a parent or child initiates an interaction and it is acknowledged appropriately, a reciprocal relationship is being formed. An example of a give-and-take interaction: a child brings a book to a parent and the parent responds with “I see you have a book, do you want to read it together?” Then the child smiles and sits on the parent’s lap. By spending time playing with your child and engaging in activities you both enjoy such as games, reading, going to the park, or cooking together you are creating a foundation for reciprocal relationships that will continue to grow.

Respectful, responsive and reciprocal relationships support your child’s overall well-being, set the foundation for learning and encourage healthy growth and development.

Michelle Saint Hilarie is  the (Senior Statewide Program Director) at Arizona Child Care Resource and Referal. For more information, visit



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