The other day I observed a woman playing with a 5 or 6 year old girl in the park. I will refer to the woman as “mother” though I don’t know the relationship. It was obvious the mother had gone to great lengths to pack a special lunch and to bring all the pieces of her child’s miniature tea set so they could have an intimate little outdoor tea party. When it came time to set out the tiny cups and saucers, the little girl was being very specific, some might say controlling, about how she wanted the table to look. “Put that cup there and this spoon right here!” The mother was at first smiling and helping with the dish placement, though within a short time (not more than two minutes) she began to look around aimlessly, and then fixed her gaze into a blank stare at something imaginary on the pond. I watched the little girl look up at her mother, say something, wave a cup slightly in her direction, and then she idly wondered off to the swing set all by herself. The little girl kept looking over at her mother on the bench, but her mother hadn’t noticed that her daughter had left the tea party. That is until the little girl slipped from the swing onto the ground and screamed as her knee hit the sand. You can imagine what happened next. The mother gasped in horror and ran frantically to assist her not so terribly wounded child.
Now I don’t know this pair and I have no idea what was really going on, but my imagination wandered, as it often does, to the concepts of attunement and resonance. Resonance is about aligning ourselves to the primary emotion of another. In that moment of alignment each person has a “felt sense” of the other. This is sometimes referred to as a connection or as emotional intimacy. Opportunities for these “felt sense” moments happen all the time with our children, though they can slip by us because of our own frustration, fatigue, anger, and general preoccupation with other things.
Attunement depends upon our amazing capacity for non-verbal communication. In fact, the vast majority of our communication with others is non-verbal, and a huge percentage of what our brains perceive in communication from others is focused (even without our being aware) on non-verbal signals: eye movements, facial gestures, tone of voice, the move of a hand, or tip of the head. Even as one area of the brain is processing and attending to the words in an interaction, other areas are continually focusing on, and responding to, the non-verbal actions that accompany the words. From this process, a child can literally sense your interest, your approval, and your enthusiasm (resonance).
Resonance follows attunement. Even when we are separated from one another we can continue to feel the vibration of that resonant connection. This sensory experience of another person becomes part of us. When a relationship includes resonance, there is often an incredible sense of joining. And the joining experience becomes part of our memory, imagery, and thoughts of the other. It is how being loved can be felt even when alone, just by remembering the person who you have loving resonance with. It is why Valentine’s Day is more than a Hallmark card. For many, resonance likely motivated the purchase of that cute little puppy face glued across that big red heart Hallmark card (unless, of course. the purchase was simply obligatory, therefore lacking the motivation of resonance).
Attuned connections create resonance. When your child feels positive sensations, such as in moments of delight and mastery, you can share these emotional states and reflect, even amplify them with your child. Similarly, when your child feels negative emotions, such as in moments of disappointment or hurt (even anger), you can empathize with the feelings and offer a soothing presence that comforts. These moments create a joining that enables the child to “feel felt,” to feel that s/he exists in your mind. This attunement allows your child to feel connected to you and they feel good about you and themselves because you have given their primary emotion resonance. You can know, that they know, that you know how they feel.
Resonance of the parent exists inside the mind of the child, even when the child is far away from the parent. This is what every parent ultimately hopes for—their child to feel good about themselves, their family members, and others in the world.
Look again at the tea party above. What do you notice? How does attunement and resonance play out? How are you with your child? Is there one little way you could create more attunement in your relationship with your child? I know it isn’t that easy to stay attuned to an attachment challenged child. Still, healing is in the attunement and ultimate resonance.
One last thing, do you know that we can teach children non-verbal attunement language just as we help them develop verbal language skills? These simple questions and answers are a good start:
• "How can you tell if someone is happy?"
• "How can you tell if someone is sad?"
• "How does it feel when no one listens to you?"
• "When someone is speaking to you, you should look
• "You can understand someone if you listen to their
words and watch how they behave.
Interestingly, you can ask a child of almost any age the above questions, especially if they are attachment challenged. You might find these kinds of questions help them to make some connections they hadn’t noticed before.
Because love matters,
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All Rights Reserved by Ce Eshelman 2010.
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