A Deeper Look at Attunement and Building Bounce
I am excited to be taking a deeper look into attunement and building bounce in the Center for Family Transformation’s most recent blog series called Joy Filled Kids. As a review from my first post, attunement is the ability to recognize and meet someone in their feelings. It doesn’t matter if we think they “should” be feeling that way or not; the goal is that we do not want them to feel like they are alone in that emotion. Building bounce is a way to think about adding joy or “air,” to our lives so that we are able to easily bounce back to joy from distressing emotions (1). Joy grows best with secure attachments, and these attachments happen “when families have the skills to form healthy bonds, are able to attune well to one another (listen and connect), and can stay relational in the face of challenges” (2).
A major part of being able to add these habits to our lives is strengthening our ability to validate, comfort, and recover. For babies (birth through three or four in this context), who are born with a need to attach, this looks like coming to a baby who is crying, mirroring their distress so they know you are with them in it, while thinking through problem-solving for how to comfort them and help them recover (1). This is important for a couple of reasons. First, the babies learn that their cries are attended to and their needs will be met if they let someone know they need something. Second, babies learn it is okay to have emotions because someone will help them recover. Even though it feels like the end of the world, they will learn there is a beginning, middle, and end to their emotions and someone will be right there with them, comforting them back to a place of calm (1).
A practical way to exercise the skill of attunement and building bounce for babies is to play peek-a-boo or practice eye smiles. Eye contact and smiling with babies teaches them that you are there with them, and this grows their momentary joy and capacity for joy. An important note for this exercise is to allow the baby to rest when they turn away. Sometimes we think that more joy is always better. Babies actually need moments to rest (i.e., quiet their mind and reset). It is important to respect that boundary by showing them it is okay for them to look away for a moment. When they are ready, they turn back, and we are right there waiting for them to be able to build some more joy together (1).
Attunement and building bounce with children is important because this is the age when they begin to learn that they can regulate their own emotions with our help. Co-regulating or parent-assisted regulation is an important part of joy-building as well as increasing secure attachment. My experience with my six-year-old son is that I can be tempted to comfort him and skip validating. When he gets hurt, my heart aches because he is hurting. I want him to feel better and know he is going to be okay. However, he may feel alone in his sadness and feelings of hurt if I skip the validation step. Our brains need validation before comfort. This means that before we can fix anything, we need to help them name their feelings and meet them there. Then their brains can learn the path back to joy from each negative emotion (each one has a different path back to joy), and we can let them know they are not alone in any of them (1). These emotions are shame, sadness, anger, fear, disgust, and despair (1). You may notice the same steps, validation, comfort, and recovery, are used for both babies and children, but with children, you are able to use more words and help them to see that they are able to return to joy with your help. This is important because “instead of avoiding emotions and the situations that cause them, we want to learn to deal with them and bounce back so we feel like ourselves more quickly” (2, p. 22).
A practical way to work on attunement and building bounce with children is to do a “satisfying project” together (1). It could be anything your child is interested in like: building with blocks, doing a puzzle or art project. Anything that you both can enjoy together and be excited for the final project is a good activity to do. It may seem simple, but participating in an activity that is satisfying for both of you is a great way to build joy and get more “air” for the times when the child will need to bounce back.
If our children have learned the aforementioned skills as they approach puberty, they will be able to return to joy on their own. They will have learned to identify emotions, and their brains will have repeatedly taken the paths back to joy. When they are able to manage their emotions, parents get to transition into a “sounding board” for decision-making (1). We also get the opportunity to help teach them how to walk others, their friends, or those they interact with through regulating their emotions and returning to joy. They can validate, comfort, and recover when those around them are experiencing any of the six core negative emotions. A practical way to apply these habits with your adult children is to process our own fears about our children transitioning into adulthood. There is a spectrum from “hands-off” (meaning parents almost disconnect from their adult children) to “hands-on,” where the parents may hold on too tightly and stunt their adult child’s growth (1). Overall, being aware of our fears is a great way to make sure we are in the middle of the spectrum. Another helpful habit builder for adult children is sharing with them the life lessons that we have learned and what we hope they learn from us (1).
For more details on attunement and building bounce, you can read The Four Habits of Raising Joy-Filled Kids by Marcus Warner and Christ Coursey. This book is full of the authors’ own personal stories, as well as many more practical exercises, to help these habits become more present no matter a child’s age. Part three of this blog series we will take a deeper look at correcting with care and developing disciplines relationally; tune back in soon!
- Warner, M., & Coursey, C. (2021). 4 Habits of raising joy-filled kids: A simple model for developing your child’s maturity-at every stage. Northfield Publishing.
2. Hinman, S. (2021). Building Bounce with Kids. Cedar Gate Publishing.