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  • Writer's pictureLena Agree JD, PsyD

What Are “Responsive Routines and Limits,” and Why Are They So Important for Your Nanny to Set?



This is the third article in our 4-part series addressing How Your Nanny Can Support Your Child’s Social-Emotional Development.


Based on available research, there are four behaviors every childcare worker should practice in order to provide appropriate support for your child’s social-emotional development. These are each addressed separately in our 4-part series:

o Responsive routines and limits


Your child will likely spend a lot of time with a nanny/au pair during his/her childhood. If she understands and exhibits these behaviors with your child, you can feel confident that she is positively impacting your child’s social-emotional development. Here we discuss the 4th construct: Responsive Routines and Limits, so you will know what to look for in a nanny/au pair (and can also apply it yourself).


Responsive routines. Human beings don’t like chaos. It feels unsafe when we don’t know what’s coming up. Routines create consistency, which is calming, even to infants.


A good child caregiver provides routines and schedules that are responsive to the child’s needs. She also lets the child know what to expect in advance of events and interactions, using verbal or even visual cues, such as pictures. Making a child aware of the days’ events before they happen reduces anxiety, which supports the child’s ability to regulate his/her emotions and freely explore the environment without worry.


Positive limit-setting. Setting behavioral guidelines and limits in a positive way helps young children manage their behavior. Positive language is important, especially for very young children, as they easily misinterpret negative prompts, such as “Stop running,” or “Don’t run,” particularly when they’re emotionally aroused. They tend to focus on the last word and do more, instead of less, of the unwanted activity. For this reason, they respond better to positive prompting, which tells then what to do, rather than what not to do, such as “Please walk” or “Please slow down.”

Anecdotally, with older children, negative prompts carry a more critical valence. If used routinely, they can taint the quality of the caregiver-child relationship.


Check out the first of our 4-part series on how you can share techniques from the wonderful book, The Whole Brain Child to help your nanny take the best care of your children.



Based on research by:

Atkins-Burnett, Sally, Shannon Monahan, Louisa Tarullo, Yange Xue, Elizabeth Cavadel, Lizabeth Malone, and Lauren Akers (2015). Measuring the Quality of Caregiver-Child Interactions for Infants and Toddlers (Q-CCIIT). OPRE Report 2015-13. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Halle, T., Anderson, R., Blasberg, A., Chrisler, A., & Simkin, S. (2011). Quality of caregiver- child interactions for infants and toddlers (QCCIIT): A Review of the Literature, OPRE 2011- 25. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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