What is attunement?

Catherine Mogil, PsyD
Attunement is a system of communication between the parent and child. It's a way the child expresses something. Maybe it's dissatisfaction. Maybe it's "I got my hand stuck in a chair and I can't get it out," or maybe it's a bid for the parent's attention and it's, "Mom, I want your attention right now. I need you. I want you."

The parent's role is to observe the child, read the cue, decode the cue, which sometimes is the hardest part, and then respond to it. When this happens, the child then signals back to the parent that this is exactly what was needed, or this wasn't quite what was needed and the child is still distressed. This results in a back and forth between the parent and child. Sometimes we call it a serve and return interplay between the parent and the child. It is key for a parent to pay attention to what triggers the child's emotions and then be able to respond to those emotions.

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