Attunement and Mirroring with your Baby
Attunement begins with sensitivity. By remaining sensitive, you become aligned with your baby’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Your baby gains a sense of security, which positively affects the development of his nervous system. When he feels attuned to those closest to him, he acquires the self-assurance to reach out and connect with others in the world.
The communication of attunement is largely nonverbal. Signals such as eye contact, gestures, touches, facial expressions, and voice tones are subtle ways of letting your baby know that he is cared for and loved. For instance, the high-pitched voice that parents and caregivers instinctually use when talking with babies creates attunement and is a universal way of relating to babies all over the world.
This type of attunement grows not from what is said but rather from how it is said. What appears to be meaningless babble between parent and baby is actually rich, intricate communication. Attunement develops through the reciprocal dialogue, and it creates a state of resonance. When attuned, a mother produces the feel-good hormone oxytocin, and her baby builds positively on his perception of the world.
When you take the time to become attuned and present with your baby, you give him a sense of safety that helps him feel trusting, calm, confident, and ready to learn.
Mirroring is a technique that deepens attunement and reinforces your baby’s sense of self. Your baby communicates his feelings to you through facial expressions, body movements, and sounds. When you respond by reflecting back his expressions with empathy and respect, he realizes that he is heard and develops strong self-esteem, self-worth, and self-respect. This type of parental response is called mirroring.
Mirroring helps your child feel empowered and gives him a sense of control within his surroundings. It is also a tool for him to bond with caregivers and family members during one-on-one time.
Mirroring occurs subconsciously and consciously. You consciously mirror your child when you copy his gestures, movements, sounds, or expressions. You mirror your baby subconsciously by naturally responding to his cues and being attuned to his needs. Mirroring helps your child feel empowered and gives him a sense of control within his surroundings. It is also a tool for him to bond with caregivers and family members during one-on-one time.
To show the impact of mirroring, Edward Tronick, PhD, conducted an experiment called the Still Face Experiment in 1975. In this experiment, Tronick observed the interaction of a mother and baby when the mother stopped responding to her baby and kept a still (expressionless) face, with no mirroring, for three minutes. In this short amount of time, the baby made repeated attempts to interact via the usual reciprocal pattern. When the mother continued to show no response, the baby withdrew and had physiological reactions such as hiccups, spitting up, and crying.
Tronick’s experiment is considered a significant finding in developmental psychology, because it demonstrates the power of caregivers’ engagement with their children. A baby can accept a parent or caregiver’s absence if he or she is out of sight and unavailable to respond. However, if his parent or caregiver is physically but not emotionally present, the baby is likely to become upset or psychologically impacted.
A Baby’s Cues
In your baby’s first year, it can be challenging to figure out the meaning of his behavior because he probably does not have the language skills to clarify his message. However, by paying attention to your baby’s sounds, facial expressions, gaze, and gestures, you can often interpret what he is trying to communicate. Without saying a word, he can tell you what he wants. You may be your baby’s first teacher, but your baby can also teach you. All you have to do is observe and listen for cues.
First, notice engagement and closeness cues. Are your baby’s eyes open? Is he looking at your face intently? Is he smiling at you? Does he follow your voice and face as you move around the room? Is he making rooting sounds? Is he hungry? Follow his lead. If he is showing interest in a new toy, keep playing. If he points to a safe object, let him touch it.
Also look out for disengagement and need-for-change cues. Does your baby turn or look away? Is he arching his back and pushing away? Does he cry, cough, or frown? Is he yawning or falling asleep? Does he have a glazed-over look in his eyes? Does he need quiet time? Does he need a diaper change? If he turns away or fusses, he may need a break from his current activity, surroundings, or company.
When you respond to your baby’s cues, he learns that his actions have an effect on people. Every day is a new adventure in which you and your baby discover more about each other.