Jeremy Hartling and his baby Olivia

Parent-Infant Attunement Part III

Learning to be “attuned” to each individual child is a process of trial and error that takes time and effort. No parent or caregiver is “in-tune” with their child 24/7. No matter how well you know your child; there will be many times when the signals your child is sending are confusing. There will also be times when you don’t have the time to give your full attention to your baby, which is alright, as long as you can give your infant enough quality time to create a strong bond.
A good time to practice attunement is when your infant is in the wide-awake, quiet alert state.  Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, noted author and pediatrician, describes states of awareness that are common for most infants. There is a continuum of consciousness from deep sleep at one end, to active, intense crying at the other end.  In the wide awake quiet alert state, your infant will have smooth body movements and an attentive look on his face.  Your baby may follow your movements and focus on your face, locking eyes with you. Parents want to prolong this state when possible because this is a time when babies learn a lot from their environment.  However, an attuned parent will also recognize the signs that her baby is overwhelmed by too much stimulation.

Some signs of over-stimulation include:

1. Baby will turn his head away and break eye contact

2. Baby may become fussy and irritable

3. Baby’s breathing may become shallow and rapid

4. Baby’s face may become pale or red

5. Baby’s movements may become rapid and “jerky”

When parents are fully attuned to their baby’s vocal signals and body language, they are able to offer truly responsive parenting.

 Strategies recommended by Michigan State University, to become more attuned to infants and young children:

1. Hold or position your child so that you can see each other’s faces. Remember that newborns need to be about eight- to 12-inches from your face to see it clearly. As infants grow, they do not need to be so close, but you still need to maintain relatively close proximity.
2. Give your child your undivided attention and try to remove other thoughts from your mind. Be present. While we know that it is not possible to be constantly focused on your child, you will be able to set aside several times each day to try to establish this one-on-one time when you are not engaged in any other activity. Again, you will want to look for times when it is appropriate for your baby.
Look at your child’s body language and facial expressions. Listen to the sounds he is making. Follow your child’s eyes.
3. Match your facial expression and tone of voice to your child’s expression. Take a cue from the Latin definition of the word “respond” – give like for like.
Quietly echo your child’s vocalizations or tone to begin interacting with them.
Pace your movements and vocal pattern to match the tempo of your child’s actions.

You create a stronger bond and a richer relationship with your child when you are attuned.  You also give your child more skills to participate in a dialogue with you and others who are attuned. You participate in creating a sturdy foundation for your infant’s mental health which will last a lifetime.