Archives for January 2019

The Power of Attunement

I was sitting in the lobby as a parent was departing with their young child.  The parent stopped at the front desk, engaging in a conversation with the adult on the other side of the desk.  While they talked, the little girl noticed a slip of paper on the floor, across the room, not far from a waste basket.  As the parent continued in conversation, the child toddled over to the piece of paper and picked it up. She started toward the waste can just as the parent finished and turned their attention to the child.

“Come now, we need to go to the car,” the parent said striding over to the child and taking her  hand. The small child immediately wailed, resisting the pull toward the door. Unaware of the child’s intention to deposit the litter in the wastebasket, the parent proceeded to cajol the child, exasperated by their uncooperative behavior.

From my vantage point, it was easy to see why the child was being uncooperative.  But the parent had not seen the litter, or the little girl’s determination to “help”.  It was a perfect example of the importance of attunement.

Had the parent taken just a moment after completing their conversation to observe what the child was doing, they might have seen that the child was simply completing a small task they had independently begun.  Had the parent waited a few more seconds, just until that small piece of paper had been deposited into the trash can, I have no doubt the child would have happily walked out the door, all smiles and cooperation.

Attunement is the attention we give the mood and emotional needs of another human being.  Attunement parenting focuses on how well a parent recognizes and interprets their child’s needs, moods and emotions in order to respond appropriately.  Well attuned parents of infants are able to interpret their baby’s feelings and respond appropriately.

Attunement is facilitated by attention.  In order to accurately interpret another’s emotional or physical needs, one must first be paying attention.  If we are attuned to another person, we will have noticed what happened and be able to see the context within which that person’s need is being expressed.

Attunement requires our attention, but, as Nathalie Spencer observes, “Attunement is not simply undivided attention; it is both more and less than that.  It does not mean a parent giving in to every whim of a child. But it is the understanding of needs, and a response to those needs which ultimately help the other to regulate their emotions and arousal.  It is bringing someone up when they need some stimulation, and bringing them down when they need calming.”

Attunement is different from Attachment Parenting in that Attachment parenting uses continuous physical closeness and touch to promote the emotional engagement and connection between an infant and parent. Parents practicing attachment parenting carry their babies in a sling on their body as much as possible.  Often they co-sleep with their infants. The physical closeness of the infant to the parent supports the emotional attachment between the parent and child. Where attachment parenting focuses on physical closeness, attunement focuses on our attention to the emotions of the other.

It is easy to miss the cues about a child’s emotional needs when we are not paying attention.  This frequently leads to emotional disconnect and frustration, both ours and theirs. With so many things vying for our attention, it is easy to be unattuned to the people we are physically with.  Our mobile phones make us always accessible, so we push the stroller while handling the work call – with no opportunity to attune to the child who sees a plane in the sky and exclaims excitedly, “plane!”.

Neuroscience research has confirmed our brains are not wired for multi-tasking.  In fact, multi-tasking does not make us more efficient. Instead, it makes us worse at both of the things we are trying to accomplish.  Parents who try to multitask while in the company of their children do not give the children – or the other task – the full benefit of their time and attention.  Attunement suffers and often frustration ensues.

When choose to attend to one at a time, we stand a better chance of being attuned to our children’s emotional state.   And being better attuned – paying attention – gives us a better chance of meeting the needs or navigating the ‘no’. Attunement makes us better informed because we have observed and are paying attention.

 

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Supporting Children with Routines

The Parenting Success Network is proud to introduce our new PSN Blogger, Lynne Brown, formerly of the Montessori School in Corvallis.  Lynne has an education in journalism and a background in early education, and we are delighted to welcome her to the PSN family!  Lynne’s blogs will be published bi-monthly, and will upload on Monday evenings (usually).

 

Ah, the new year.  A fresh new calendar and a return to the routine.

The end of December, with the long stretch of time off from school (and for some of us, from work) offers a wonderful opportunity to be out of the ordinary.  Without the structure of the school day, we are free to sleep in, stay up, leave home, or leave town for extended periods of time.  It’s exciting and fun, chaotic and sometimes exhausting.

And then it is January, and our everyday life resumes.

After the excitement of the holidays, most of us are ready to get back into our daily routine of school and work.  While the unique schedules during the holidays are something we look forward to, our everyday routines are important for both growing children and their parents.

Creating regular routines – for starting the day, transitioning to naps, sharing meals, and heading to bed helps children feel safe.  When babies and toddlers can predict what comes next, and when what they expect actually happens, it instills security and gives them a sense of mastery over their environment.  As the young child absorbs the world around them, they reach a stage of development where they suddenly have an idea about what is going to happen next.  When that idea turns out to be right, their successful prediction builds confidence and reassurance.  Even school-aged children are reassured when their day is predictable and familiar.

Routines can also help children understand time and develop time management skills.  When my first

four were very young our morning routine included Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers for the oldest three while I finished feeding and dressing the baby.  During that phase of our family life, when my four year old would ask “How long until…”, I often answered with “one (or two!) Mr. Rogers”.  She knew how long Mr. Rogers lasted when she watched it in the morning.  Thus, measuring time by the length of that TV show helped develop her ability to think abstractly.

Routines also help children establish good habits.  If getting ready for school every day includes putting dirty laundry in the hamper, brushing teeth, and combing hair, these activities become just a part of everyday life – good hygiene habits that will last them a lifetime.

Establishing a routine can reassure young children that their world is safe and predictable when:

  1. Starting the day.  Create a predictable set of tasks that start each day, and do them in the same order each day.  Do we eat first, or dress first? Do we brush our teeth immediately after we eat breakfast, or just before we head out the door? What order we do these things in is not important.  What is important is to maintain consistency once you’ve decided which comes first and what is last.
  2. Preparing for Nap time.  How will your child know that nap time is coming?  In order to help with the transition to the afternoon nap, our routine included nap time immediately after lunch.  When we were done eating, we headed for the changing table and then to bed. We established this routine when our children were infants and I remember the challenge of transitioning out of the morning nap.  In that stage, when they weren’t sleeping before lunch, but needed the afternoon nap before noon, I still maintained the routine of lunch, then nap.  As I noticed the need for the nap, lunch was served.  It meant some early lunches for a time.  But that was short-lived as they grow out of that stage so very quickly.
  3. During Play time. Even free time can have a predictable routine which helps young children learn sequencing – first, next, finally.  First we choose what we are going to play with, next we play with it, finally we put it back where we got it.
  4. It is Bedtime.  Like naptime, a predictable sequence of events following dinner helps children know that soon it will be time for bed. Knowing what comes next can help reduce resistance and encourage a calmer transition to sleep.  Transitions can be hard for many children. Creating a sequence of events that signals a transition is coming can help these children through it.

At our house we are working on creating a routine – and a habit – for putting things away when we have finished with them.  My incredibly creative eleven year old still struggles with returning the tools of her craftiness to their respective places.  It’s a work in progress.  And that’s okay.

There will be times when the routines we have established go right out the window.  We all have days when we must be flexible and do things differently than usual.  How we respond to those times is also a learning opportunity for our developing children.

Our response to a break from the routine shows our children how to be resilient and flexible, how to adjust when what we expected is different from what we experience.  And how to settle back into a routine after a disruption.  As long as our routine days outweigh the chaotic, our growing children will learn that the world is safe and predictable and that they can trust us to take care of them and meet their needs.

 

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Let’s Play

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

I’ve just been reading about research on the value of play. Not that I needed convincing—I love to play! But since parents often worry about ensuring that their children will do well in this complicated world, it may be reassuring to know that play is good for your children. It’s also good for you.

Some of my favorites and their benefits:

Peek-a-boo and other hiding and finding games: Infants love to engage with people. Researchers describe it as “call and response.” The infant does something—looks at the adult for example, and the adult looks back, responding to the need for interaction. Peek-a-boo plays with that looking/not looking relationship. Other hiding games help the child understand object permanence and spatial relationships.  The key thing to remember is to always look to the child and respect when they need to disengage: the baby may turn away or start to fuss. Paying attention to another person’s social cues is a vital skill— which some people find easier to learn than others. Playing peek-a-boo is a wonderful opportunity to work on that—for babies and adults.

Monster, Mad Dog, and other chase games: Always popular at our house so I was pleased to read that this sort of activity can help children with physical and social skills—such as self-assertion and anger management. The caution here is identifying the difference between fear and excitement and terror—again the key is to look to the child to see how they are reacting. I was reminded of a scene in the Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She describes Pa pretending to be a mad dog and chasing his daughters around the room. At one point he corners them by the woodbox; they are so frightened that Laura leaps up over the woodbox, dragging her sister Mary with her. “And at once there was no mad dog at all. There was only Pa standing there with his blue eyes shining, looking at Laura.”

Role reversals: Teacher, Parent, Policeman and other roles let a child experiment with having power. These also allow a parent a (partial) break from responsibility. Acting as an assistant to your child’s play (finding Lego pieces, combing doll’s hair) gives them positive attention and can be a meditative practice for you. Simply focusing on your children as they play without trying to direct or get involved is entertaining and an easy way to give them attention. A foundation of the parenting curriculum The Incredible Years is observing and describing your child’s activities as they play—like a sportscaster describing a game. Your positive attention to activities that your child enjoys builds their sense of competence.

Active games and sports can be wonderful for both adults and children. With young children, and those who are not particularly well coordinated (I fall into that category) playing for fun and not keeping score is a good idea. However, watching as my grandson’s baseball team was totally overpowered by a team that was older, I mused that learning to keep calm and to keep trying to do your best is a valuable life skill. As is learning to be a gracious loser. And a respectful winner.

Board games: Speaking of competition, there are many board games nowadays that are co-operative. Instead of playing against each other, you team up to play against some element in the game. These range in complexity from those geared to 2 year-olds to adults. Some are mere chance but others involve strategies. You can also make some traditional games into cooperative ones—such as Memory.

Enough of reasons. Let’s play!

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