Ages & Stages: Attachment and Attunement

Family connectedness begins with bonding at birth. Two key components of bonding are attachment and attunement. While attachment is the emotional bond between parents and children, attunement is the way we “tune in” to a child’s needs, work to understand their thoughts, and respond to how they are feeling and behaving. Both attachment and attunement are important to the way a child views the world, feels safe and forms relationships with others throughout life.

How can we enhance attachment and attunement in the first five years? Here are some ideas:

Ages 012 Months: Even before they are born, babies can recognize their parent’s voice; speaking to them and responding quickly assures your baby that you care. Between 2–6 months, babies begin to distinguish between caregivers and others, learn how caregivers respond when they need something, and reach for a preferred person when distressed. Through this time, attunement happens as caregivers begin to develop a special understanding of their baby’s behaviors, feelings and needs. Babies also begin to understand that their caregiver is reliable and trustworthy. Understanding of non-verbal communication and cues increases and the ability to “read” each other becomes stronger. Toward the end of the first year, babies show attachment by being more wary or distressed around strangers.

Ages 13 Years: Between 12–24 months, securely attached babies may alternate between being clingy and experiencing separation anxiety with primary caregivers and using them as a safe base from which to explore the world. Parental attunement continues to deepen through non-verbal and verbal interactions with toddlers – tone of voice, expression and body language are all part of communication and connection. A child feels secure and understood when their caregiver listens carefully, shows genuine interest and responds to their emotions, needs and wants. Between 24 months and three years, children begin to understand the differences between themselves and others and may begin to feel less upset about separating from a primary caregiver. In these situations, stating the plan for reuniting can help ease anxiety.

Ages 3–5 Years: During preschool, children become more confident and secure as individuals. However, even the most independent preschooler still needs to feel attached. Become more attuned to your growing child by helping them identify how they feel, which can help them understand themselves and others. Providing boundaries and expectations for behavior can help children feel safe, and noticing when they have done a good job builds self-worth and self-confidence. Accepting your child as they are and showing compassion for their experience helps your child learn compassion for others. Attuning with your child is a process that will help them build healthy relationships throughout life.

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