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Attunement: The Most Important Thing You Can Give Your Child

August 09, 20236 min read

Why is attunement the #1 most important thing a parent can give a child?

Let's find out...

Attunement Defined

Attunement is the ability to tune into another person in such a way that they feel your really "get" them and are present with them.

This does several things to the child:

First, it sends them the message that they matter. Our biology is designed to know what is safe versus what is unsafe in the world. When the child looks into the eyes of the primary caretaker it can sense if the person is present or preoccupied. Preoccupation sends the child's nervous system into high alert.

If the child remains in high alert long enough then it will develop coping patterns to deal with the high stress. This includes low self esteem, apathy, anxiousness or ADD, and dozens of other possible signs of insecurity.

In essence, the child has been developmentally traumatized.

Insecurities Get "Locked" into The Nervous System

The "insecurities" locked into the nervous system at this early age will manifest throughout the person's life. The symptoms can run the gamut.

From being apathetic about life, over-excelling in sports or other outlets, addictions, even being a workaholic.

What most people don't realize is many of their "motivations" are influenced unconsciously by feelings of insecurity that are pulsing outward in an attempt to discharge or become resolved.

One way to think about it is fear or insecurity about survival has become habituated and stays stuck in a loop until we address it to completion. The brain literally has to get updated to current reality.

More on that later...

Key Player: Implicit Memory System

Keep in mind that in the first 5-7 years of life the primary memory system online is the implicit system.

It happens to be the portal to resolving the insecurity trap we were discussing above. Let's look at why...

By its very nature the implicit system doesn't have a date code of time stamp on any experience. Think of it as muscle memory. When you activate it, it assumes everything is happening right now.

Subtle experiences can prime the memories associated with it. From a simple look to a smell.

Think about what this means for a moment. If I reached out to mother when I was first born and over-and-over again she was not available or inconsistently available, I may develop the belief my needs will not get met or that I don't ever know when they will be met. And we draw conclusions from these experiences...

Meanwhile, the repetition of this experience lays down the memory system in my body.

There are the feelings and beliefs that get associated with these experiences.

These feelings, beliefs and associations then follow us around and randomly get triggered because the brain is constantly on the look out to resolve the anxiety they produce.

Recapitulation: The Hallmark of Trauma

Another attribute of trauma is it has a way of repeating itself in an attempt to self correct.

Let's apply this fact to relationships...

Even 20 years after the events that we got pickled in as children, we will migrate towards what is familiar to us regardless if the memories associated are good or bad.

The brain like what is familiar...even if it's detrimental.

As we've also said, the memory system that is getting activated is based on information programmed into in us during the first years of life –not on current reality. Can't emphasize this enough.

We Filter Our Perceptions Based On Past Memories

We filter all our perceptions based on past events. So in a way we are already a sitting duck if we don't have a way of noticing the pattern and see how it's connected to long ago and deal with it.

So anything that even resembles those early life experiences is going to trigger a similar response because that response is familiar to us.

Like a child's mind, we react the same way 20 years later. We don't even question it. We think the other person is the problem because at the early age we adopted the pattern adults were almighty powerful and we were at their mercy. The brain knows this when we are little. We feel helpless...

Helplessness Is Often At The Root

In those volatile "dating" moments, we don't realize we are activating an old memory and reacting as if we are helpless. The result is we blame others and respond out of a sense of helplessness.

This dynamic is exhausting to the emotional and physical body. Eventually the person who repeats the pattern over-and-over again without realizing what is actually going on, gives up. They decide on a story that solidifies their relationship doom.

"Men are this..."

"Women are that..."

"I can't trust anyone..."

"I'd rather be alone...it's easier"

And so on...

Attunement Helps

Much of the time I can trace back most relational trauma to a lack of attunement to the child. Of course I'm assuming that if you are attuned to the child you will understand what they are needing. That is not always true either but it sure helps.

The second thing I would recommend to parents is to teach responsibility but I want to save that for another blog.

For the moment, let's focus on how to development attunement.

An Experiment

Try this experiment. Pick some object in a room. Write down what you see about that object. Keep asking yourself, "what else" and continue to write down different aspects of that object as they come to mind. Notice over time you can come up with a pretty extensive list.

Im looking at a water bottle...

My initial list looks like this:

  1. purple

  2. rounded edges

  3. plastic straw

  4. hook to hang onto it with your finger

  5. about 7 inches tall

Second list adds:

  1. rubber covers part of the glass top and bottom

  2. ribbed glass in the middle to hold easier

  3. see the straw through the glass

  4. water bubbles around the straw

  5. every edge is circular

Can you see how as I paid more attention to detail I could see more aspects of the bottle?

This is your goal with your children.

Take the time to "feel" into them and sense who they are, what their wants and desires are, their fears and frustrations, and so on. What qualities do they exude that you can help cultivate?

No Excuses Not To Have these Skills Today

Attachment research is some of the most exciting research in human history. Attunement is one of the cornerstones to healthy attachment and to training your child to have a healthy nervous system.

One of my favorite books on the topic as it relates to attunement in relationships is Sue Johnsons book: Hold Me Tight

Another great book by one of my favorite authors Dr. Daniel Siegel is called: The Whole Brain Child

If you want healthy children, you must make a conscious effort to send the message to the child that they are valued, loved and it's safe to be in the world. They will grow with better self esteem and cultivate the sense of exploration in themselves so that they can fulfill their spiritual destiny in the world. AND It's especially useful if you don't want a therapy or a coaching bill later in their life! :)

If you would like attunement coaching you can reach me at 970-317-0001 or set a time on my calendar at: [Calendar]

Please take a moment and ask your questions below in the comments area. In the next article I will talk about how to develop responsibility in children so they grow up resourceful, ambitious, and eager to contribute to a demanding world.

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Ed Ferrigan, M.A., CPCC, SEP

Working with Ed, you’ll get a clear focus on what you are wanting, gain permanent skills to identify and remove any limiting beliefs and heal any potential trauma from that past (most people have no idea this is an issue). He will make the process simple to understand so you can make more conscious choices in the future that create the results you are wanting. Ed lives in Durango, CO and is fond of most outdoor activities including photography, fly-fishing, hiking and camping. Ed is also an avid dancer and has an affinity to West Coast Swing.

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