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  • Writer's pictureKellie Cathey, LSW

'Emotional Attunement': How to Create Deep Connection with Your Little One

In my practice (and in my life), we talk a lot about validating feelings.

It's that process where you deeply see and hear another human being for how they are feeling. As therapist, we are trained to do it.

Unfortunately, it hard to most of us to sit with the emotion of another person because we're not comfortable with our own emotions. But this is what we need to change.

Tuning into another human beings emotions creates a profound shift in our ability to be vulnerable, to feel seen and to move in a direction of deeper connection. Carrying around our feelings without having them seen by others creates deep shame and disconnection with self.

For children, validating emotions is particularly important for them to learn at a young age that all emotions are okay. Giving children to space to express all emotions allows them to not feel shame for their anger or their sadness, but rather move through them as a natural part of life.

But guess what? Validating your child's emotions can begin the moment they are born. Beautiful, right?

Validating emotions in early childhood is called emotional attunement. Attunement is a fancy word for connection and understanding. When attuning to your child emotions, you are matching and mirroring their expression of whatever emotion is occurring.

Emotional attunement creates something called a secure attachment between you and your child. This allows for baby, toddler or child to feel comfortable being one with you and comfortable being separate from you.

If parents feel disconnected and are unable to attune to themselves, it can often times spill over into their ability to naturally attune to their child. It becomes a cycle when both child and parent feel disconnected and invalidated for how they feel.

Anxious parents often will spill anxiety into their children. Depressed or angry parents may often spill those experiences into their children too.

As a parent, working on attuning to your own feelings will allow you to become more open to attuning to your child. Because of the culture we live in and how it often teaches us to suppress feelings, parents are often left passing down patterns of disconnection without even knowing it.

Working to overcome these barriers will allow you to create deeper connection to yourself and to your little one. Here are three tips to help you out!

1. Monitor Your Own Emotions

For the longest time, the sound of a baby crying triggered me. It felt so helpless that I couldn't bear to hear it. As I became aware of my own emotions around crying babies, I was able to attune to the parts of me who felt helpless. Now, working with babies brings me such joy.

Tuning into your own emotions in moments with your child is so helpful in understanding what you're feeling. When your baby cries, what is your response? Do you become anxious and overwhelmed? Do you retreat inward for safety? That response in giving you information about yourself.

Brining awareness to these feelings and becoming curious about where they come from help you tune into the barriers that may be blocking you from deeply connecting with your baby.

2. Meet Anger with Firmness

In much of my work, I have been seeing a pendulum swing in parenting. Generationally, the generation before the one raising children now were raised with fear and hard limits. Because of the unprocessed pain from that generation, parents are becoming limitless where children are now taking control of the family system.

Children need limits to feel safe. They need firmness to know their boundaries in the world. They are discovering their newness in their body and testing how boundless they can be. In order to keep them contained, they need boundaries.

When toddler become angry, they need to have their anger attuned to with firmness. When a toddler test limits, saying a sweet 'no' won't communicate the importance of the limit.

Using firmness in your words and saying something like, "You are really angry right now! But I can't let your kick me!" gives them the safety in knowing that you still have control over the situation.

3. Play

Playing with your child is pure connection. Children of any age connect with themselves through play. In connecting with you through play, they are sent the powerful message that 'It's okay to be me.'

Newborn babies play through smiling and teasing you for attention. Older babies will play or throw food to playfully test limits and get attention.

Toddlers will begin to come to you with toys or other forms of expression to connect. Understanding and ceasing these moments of play create a bond of joy between parent and child that allows the child to feel deeply seen and loved.

If you're interested in knowing more about how children connect through play, feel free to contact me to learn more about my Parent-Child Play date Group.

It is a group designed to give parents and children ages newborn-5 years a space to learn about emotional development and connect through PLAY.

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