Attune to your child…some of the time

Attunement:  it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in the world of parenting and psychology, but what does attunement really mean?  Attunement is an innate ability that almost all humans have to internally and externally match the experience of another person with whom they’re connecting.  When we see someone crying, we easily and naturally feel sadness ourselves.  When we are with someone who just found out that they won a big contest, we feel excitement too.

But attunement is not simply empathy for another person’s emotional experience.  It’s an energetic matching game.  We may feel the sadness, but we’re not really attuning unless we’re matching the physical and non-physical energy of the person we’re with.  Attunement is the ultimate connection.  It’s a joining and sharing of an experience, an experience of oneness.

I often feel this oneness while nursing my daughter or in playful moments when she’s on the changing table or when we’re rocking in the rocking chair and she relaxes, resting her whole body against mine.  Connection through attunement is incredibly important for secure attachment to happen.  And, the oneness can’t happen all the time.  In fact, it would feel awfully strange to even attempt to experience attunement for an entire day.

We need connection, and we need separation too.  In fact, it’s the dance between connection and separation that makes our human experience so rich and dynamic.  We may experience a beautiful moment of attunement and later we’ll each go off by ourselves to have some solitude.  It’s an ebb and flow like so many other things in life.  And each part is just as important as the other.

Right now I’m reading a really interesting novel told from a five-year-old boy’s point of view.  The thing I find so fascinating about it is how accurate the author is about the details of the thoughts and emotions the little boy experiences.  The boy has a favorite spoon he calls “meltedy spoon” and when I read the words “meltedy spoon” I am instantly transported back into the classroom with 3-5 year olds.  What a perfect example of really attuning to the mind of a five year old.

This week, pay special attention to the moments of attunement that you share with your child and then consciously allow your child to separate from you when he’s ready.

Instead of hovering over him at the park, intruding on his playtime, bring a book and let him have his own experience.  Then, after an especially fun moment, he might just run over to you and excitedly share what happened.  That’s your opportunity to put the book down, make eye contact, feel the excitement in your own body and attune with him.  Maybe you’ll even be inspired to jump up and run around with him for a while.

But again, as soon as you notice him going off on his own, resist any urge you might have to follow, and go back to your book instead.  By allowing your child to determine the length of the cycle between attunement and separation, you’re reassuring him that you’re available when he needs you, but you’re not going to interrupt his flow.

If, on the other hand, your tendency is to encourage your child to play on her own more often so that you can do your adult activities, then your challenge this week is to really stop, drop what you’re doing, and attune to your child when she reaches out for connection.  Remember, that means matching her energy.  So, if she’s slow and methodical, you’ll practice slowing down too.  And if she’s giggling and gasping for breath, see how much you can feel what that must feel like.  Pay attention to any sensations in your body as you practice attuning with your children.  Often, we can find new levels of empathy when we’re willing to try to step into our children’s shoes more fully.

I would love to hear about your own experiences of attunement and separation.  Is the natural ebb and flow easy or difficult for you?  Does your timing match up with your child’s?  And how do you feel when you notice your child coming toward you or moving away from you?

I hope you’ll all have a fantastic week, Shelly