Attunement

Anna Marsh

Happy New Year!

I am always thankful for an opportunity to reset and refocus. The unfurling of a new year prompts me to consider Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

To me, this passage reads almost like a mantra or centering prayer that requires meditation and repetition. Interestingly, Jeremiah wrote these words immediately following deep lament and personal anguish over the destruction of Jerusalem. We are reminded here that, regardless (or perhaps even in light) of what occurred in 2021, God’s love never ceases and His mercy is limitless. Amen!

I want to begin the year by encouraging you as Foster and Group Care Parents. The more I learn in the clinical field, the more I am convinced that as parents you are equally (and I would argue in fact more) essential to the therapeutic process for the children in our care as traditional counseling interventions.

For many of the children that we serve, prenatal and early life experiences loaded genetics and environmental factors against them. Due to impairment, loss or frequent disruption of former caregivers, most of our children do not arrive to WinShape equipped for healthy attachment. Those of you who have parented children from hard places for any length of time are well-acquainted with the myriad behaviors that may result and make forming new attachments difficult on both ends.

However, from day one of a child’s placement in your home, you as parents represent God’s greatest tool for their healing! We know that neuroplasticity – that is, our brain’s ability to change and learn by forming new connections – is at its height at birth and slowly declines as we age. Therefore, we find ourselves at a critical point in these children and adolescents’ development and must capitalize on this opportunity.

Through dozens of quick and often barely perceptible daily interactions, you are quite literally blazing new trails in their brains. You are helping them rewire their understanding of what “mom” or “dad” means. At an even more basic level, they are learning new associations: human beings can be good, safe, consistent and trustworthy. Finally, our ultimate goal is for our children to be transformed by God as they receive care from you. They can experience God as One who sees them, hears them, knows them and cares for them perfectly.

These daily interactions with your children demonstrate your level of attunement. In parenting, attunement represents our ability to be aware of and respond to an individual child’s needs. Practically speaking, we can demonstrate our attunement in many ways, including:

  • Touch: Certainly the range of appropriate and beneficial touch will differ from child to child according to his or her history and perspective. However, a well-timed hug can provide sensory input that is deeply regulating, and a simple shoulder squeeze or pat on the back communicates, “you are noticed” to the child.
  • Tone: What is the tone of your voice communicating to the child? In learning to navigate chaotic, neglectful or abusive prior environments, the children in our care are often hyper-sensitive to nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expression. What you know to be exhaustion, your own vicarious trauma symptoms, or completely unrelated frustration may be mistranslated and create fear or shame. While none of us will use a tone of gentleness and compassion 100% of the time, our efforts to notice the impact a harsh tone of voice might have on our children and repair with them when hurt happens can be powerful movement toward their healing.
  • Time: For most of you, logistical imperatives of the day often make daily one-on-one time with your children feel unattainable. Sometimes though, all that is needed is three to five minutes of your undivided attention interspersed throughout the day. These moments without your phone, using eye contact while genuinely listening can play a crucial role toward establishing their sense of place with you and in the family. Committing to these focused moments of attunement shows the child that you care and that he or she matters.

 

I’m sure it comes as no surprise what this calling requires of you – after all, most of you are living in the thick of it now. While none of this is shocking or high-tech information, as it comes naturally for most of us with our biological children, it often has to be your choice to pursue this attunement and healing in the lives of these children. I join you in prayer for the days when challenging behaviors make attunement with compassion feel nearly impossible. I pray for God to sustain you when demonstrating this kind of love costs every ounce of energy and patience you have. In your choice to sacrificially love the vulnerable in our midst, God is surely glorified.