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Learning attunement

I just got back from spending a week with my three and a half month old granddaughter, little Abby. What I noticed about being a grandparent, for the first time, is this child development stuff is even more fascinating the second time around. I mean, as a grandparent, you have time to slow down and watch. I don’t know about you, but when I was a young parent, slowing down was something other people got to do.

This is what I noticed the other week while I was watching her. When she is awake, she is taking everything in and quickly translates it into mimicking behavior. From Sunday to Sunday, while there, I saw her master getting her right fist into her mouth. She learned to grab a toy that she wanted and that she could make a louder noise if she hit it against another toy. She learned that I play different games than her mother; father and grandmother. By the last day, she initiated those games with me and not with others. She learned that she would, more than likely, not get fed by me and therefore didn’t want me when she was hungry. On the other hand, she did want me when she was ready to play. Each day she found new sounds to make with her mouth and knew that certain sounds would get people to smile back at her, which she really seemed to prefer over people looking at her with no expression on their face.

Before you think I am wasting your time being an overindulgent grandfather, I want to make my point. Children learn fast, much faster than we can imagine. The young people we treat here at AK Child & Family learn much faster than we think. While we fool ourselves into thinking we are watching them, they have the ability to watch us even “deeper”. They mimic our behavior, they mimic our moods, and they behave in ways, like Abby, to get the response they want. They pick up our emotions as quickly as we pick up on theirs.

We, as humans, are so used to seeing things in the faces of those around us and interpreting what we see, that those interpretations don’t even register in our consciousness. We have been doing this ever since we were Abby’s age. It is like water for fish. We learn so fast, we pick up cues so fast -- all of us – in our own way. We call that “attunement” within the ARC Model of Treatment. The trick as a parent or a treatment professional is to accurately and empathetically understand and respond to children’s actions, communications, needs and feelings. If we are paying attention it comes natural. It’s something we have been doing since we were Abby’s age. You see, little Abby makes it a habit of looking directly into the eyes of the person in front of her and is willing to take it all in. While she is still trying to figure out what all this means she has the intent down. Unlike Abby, we adults have hundreds of things coming at us at all times so we don’t always look directly in the eyes of the people in front of us. We don’t always use the skill we have gained since we were her age. I wonder, however, if we can possibly be as attentive... as attuned... as a three and a half month old – I think we can. If so, our work as parents, professionals, and even grandparents could be a whole lot easier.