We know how important attachment is for the development of children and adolescents, as they aim to ultimately form ‘secure attachment’ in their connections to others. So how do we establish secure attachment? And what ‘ingredients’ are needed to keep this intact as your daughters grow and develop? An important part of building secure attachment is the process of emotional attunement.
This can be seen in the relationship between a newborn and their carer/parent. The baby gives many cues—crying, smiling, cooing, squirming and so forth—to which the caregiver will respond, perhaps by rocking, feeding, swaddling, singing or cooing in return. The caregiver is attuning to the cues and needs of the infant, and, in turn, this reminds the baby that they are safe and can trust the adults in their world. However, this pathway of attunement does not stop at the end of early childhood, rather, it continues throughout your daughter’s life and forms the basis of her own attachment in future relationships.
The PACE model, developed by Clinical Psychologist Dr Daniel Hughes, uses four concepts that parents can apply in their interactions with their children.
While parents generally find it easier to engage in a playful manner with babies and young children, the essence of having fun with your child (not observing at a distance) tends to get lost as they grow older. Asking your daughter “Can I join in?” and engaging in things that interest her are great ways to attune to your child.
Unconditional acceptance of your daughter’s interests, beliefs and personality is vital, particularly as your daughter matures and starts to ask herself the important question: who am I? And while it’s important to implement boundaries and consequences for misbehaviour, it’s equally important to understand why your daughter may misbehave. If we think of all behaviour as a form of communication, then you can consider what your child, through their conduct, is trying to tell you. Sometimes we think our children “just know” they are loved; but do they know they are loved no matter what they do?
It’s often easy to default to the desire to ‘fix’ your daughter’s problems so she doesn’t have to experience negative feelings. However, the ability to be empathic and simply listen to how she feels is critical for attunement. As children move into adolescence, having empathy for their ‘big’ feelings (and there are lots of them, constantly, due to their brain development at this time) plays a significant role in helping to organise their emotional state. Think about when you are talking about a problem to a loved one—do you want them to fix it or hear you? Remind yourself of this the next time your adolescent daughter brings a social problem your way.
Much like playfulness, keeping an open mind and being prepared to be influenced by your child helps us to stay in touch with our own curiosity. The art of wondering aloud—asking your child, “Can you tell me about that?”—helps them to make sense of our world. By showing genuine interest in the things that enthral them, you will help your child to learn and thrive. Emotional attunement draws upon all of our senses in how we react and respond to others, and in how we resonate with and interpret them. “Feeling felt” is something we all desire, and this not only plays a part in a child’s attachment to their caregiver but also more broadly in how they feel connected to the world and form relationships with others as they move into adulthood.
MLC Clinical Psychologist