Five to Thrive: Respond

Respond is all about thinking about what your child needs and responding to this. This is the foundation of the Five to Thrive approach.  

On this page, we offer advice and guidance for responding to children of all ages, from newborn to teenager. 


Listening and reacting to your baby’s cues (signals) will help your baby build up trust. 

If they’re crying, why are they crying?

  • Do they need feeding? Read more about this on our breastfeeding and bottle feeding pages. 
  • Is their nappy wet/dirty?
  • Do they need comforting?
  • Are they scared?
happy baby lying on tummy

Each time you respond to your baby’s needs you both release ‘happy hormones’. This helps make your attachment stronger.

When you respond to your baby in the same way repeatedly, the connections grow strong. Messages are carried between different parts of the brain quickly once established.


The strong emotions and feelings of toddlers can often show in physical behaviour. For example, they may throw things when excited or angry. This is how they ‘speak’, and it’s normal at this age. What could they be trying to say to you? 

This behaviour is often called a tantrum, attention seeking or the terrible twos. Instead, try thinking about it as distressed behaviour. 

Doing this will help you respond to your toddler’s needs in a kinder and more comforting way. See our page on supporting positive behaviour

Toddler blowing bubbles

Have clear and consistent boundaries for behaviour. This will help your child know what is expected of them and predict what is going to happen. It also encourages feelings of safety, allowing your child to confidently explore within their boundaries.

Try to respond in a compassionate way. This reduces stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) in both you and your toddler and helps to keep things calm. 

Our brains work best when other people give us loving attention and respond to us. Being ignored unsettles the nervous system and can make us feel anxious or angry. 

If we get no response, the calming system activates, switching us off so that we stop feeling anything. Loving attention settles the nervous system, so that we can be in a balanced state. 

When your child has your full attention, their whole brain is working. But when you are watching TV, texting, or talking on your phone, they do not get this benefit. 

Your child will know how you are responding to them by:

  • Watching your expression
  • Watching your body language
  • Listening to the tone of your voice

Older children

As your child grows and develops, they begin to figure things out for themselves. Waiting to see if they need you before offering to support can be a good first response. Responsiveness comes from being able to hold another person in mind so we recognise how they’re feeling and what they might need from us. 

When you respond in a calm and loving way, your child learns from you. It takes:

  • Time 
  • Patience 
  • Connection 

As we’ve already mentioned, it might be helpful to see your child's behaviour as 'distressed' rather than 'naughty'. This will help you create a learning opportunity and react in a comforting, kind way. 

Try to ‘connect before you correct’ when your child is distressed by seeing things from their point of view:

  1. Calmly tell your child that you can see they’re sad/angry/frustrated and you know how difficult that is. This helps you to connect and also helps them learn this feeling and how to react to it.
  2. Explain clearly why they can’t have, or do, what they want.
  3. Finally support your child with problem solving to help them learn and think for themselves. In future, they may cope better and manage things differently.

It’s important to remember we’re not perfect all the time! If you did not respond to your child’s behaviour in the best way, make a repair by explaining in a simple way why it happened. Make sure you also stay connected. This will show your child how to learn from mistakes and move on.

Respond daily checklist

Have you: 

  • Responded, cuddled, relaxed, played and talked to your child?
  • Praised your child?
  • Stopped what you were doing when your child needed you?
  • Smiled at your child?
  • Made your child feel safe and secure?
  • Created moments for total focus on your child?
  • Taken care of your child’s everyday needs?
  • Kept your cool?
five to thrive tower of blocks showing respond

This page was co-produced in partnership with KCA

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Last updated on 30 August 2023