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What is Attunement?

We hear this word but what does it actually mean?

This is a skill I share with clients and often coach partners in how to attune to one another. It’s also paramount in parenting.

Attunement is the ability to meet a person exactly where they are at, and be with them in their state, in presence, empty of any agenda to change their current state.

Easier said than done, right?

Well, that’s where I find many have misconceptions about this word. It is an act of being not of doing. Presence resides inside of the mystery, inside of the comfortability of being with the uncomfortable. Inside of not needing to fix or change or do anything other than remain present. Present to waves of big emotions, like anger, rage, upset, fear. It is resting inside of a field of okayness and transmitting this steadfast okayness to whom you’re being present with.

What does this kind of presence offer to another you ask?

Imagine emotions as waves in an ocean. Erratic, big, surging, tumbling, rolling, ebbing and flowing. But, is a wave separate from the ocean? It is not. Neither are emotions separate from our human experience. Sometimes when these big surges are moving through us, feeling someone rest as the ocean offers a spacious presence to allow those waves to find their way back to the vastness of the ocean.

I witness this in my daughter all the time. She has big surges of emotion. Sometimes they go from calm to tidal wave before I can blink. She’s a big feeler. As so many children are. Especially in the younger years, where the rational brain has not yet developed fully.

The storm has rolled in, and she does not need me interfering. That would look like me trying to control her big feels. Saying things like “there’s no reason to be this upset” (I may be thinking that from my rational mind but no one wants to hear that their experience is wrong) or “you’re ok” or “stop being so upset.” Or, trying to distract and downplay her upset.

What she needs is the space, the presence, the rested reassurance that these big feelings are allowed here. Validation of her experience. “Yes, you’re really angry right now, I totally get that.”

What that feels like from inside of me is big exhalations, softening into my belly and heart. Getting grounded soft and spacious so she can feel me with her. A mix of empathy and stability. During her big upset, this is not a time for me to start strategizing or even problem solving. We, as adults love to go into fix-it mode. And this moment can come, but only after that need for deeply present attunement with her experience has been met and satisfied. Once empathized with, the redirect, the bumpers, and the boundaries can be shared.

Resting into pure presence is trusting the emotional and innate intelligence of our children.That their systems will regulate back to wellbeing. That this wave or set of waves will remember they’re part of the ocean.

So next time a big storm rolls in, hunker down, grab your umbrella and be in the enjoyment of the storm rolling through. Trusting once again the sun will shine from behind those clouds.

"Resting into pure presence is trusting the emotional and innate intelligence of our children.That their systems will regulate back to wellbeing. That this wave or set of waves will remember they’re part of the ocean."

If you’re someone who grew up in a household where big emotions weren’t welcomed, you may notice how quickly you want to change what’s happening. There might be internal alarm bells going off telling you this is definitely not ok.

This was the case between a couple I coach. In his family of origin, emotions like anger were not ok and shut down quickly. So when his partner is asking him to attune to her anger, he’s feigning presence. He’s pretending to be present and as he tells her he’s right there and her anger is welcome, on an energetic level she’s receiving mixed messages. Energetically, she can detect where he internally is trying to fix this emotion of anger.

What this points to is that we can only allow the range that we’ve touched in our own selves. If we don’t permission the expression of anger (I’m talking about healthy outlets of anger) in our own selves, how can we possibly stay present with this big surge moving through in another? We cannot. Not on the level of true attunement. There will be a subtle, or not so subtle, message that this emotion needs to change.

Big emotions are raw.

They’re inconvenient.

They’re the storms that roll in when we’re at the beach playing.

They’re are disruptive.

They are not linear.

Or rationale.

But they are intelligence.

Not of the mind, but of body.

Of the energy field of feelings.

They do not want to be reasoned with.

They just want to be accepted.



Attuned to.

And presenced.

The Dutch have a phrase: “Theres no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Emotions could be viewed the same way. If we take away the polarizing terms of good or bad, right or wrong and instead, just like putting on warmer layers when it’s cold out or our rain boots so we can enjoy the big puddles from the rainstorms, we can be with what’s arising. We meet it with empathy, loving curiosity, and a steadfast reassurance that we’re right here. Then, our experience of big emotions can also evolve into one of knowing this too is another expression of intelligence that arises from our body wisdom. It's our felt experience in this world.

Your child’s big emotions do not need to be fixed. Yes, there may need to be healthy bumpers like “there’s room for your anger, but it’s not ok to hit me. Let’s stomp our feet instead, or hit this soft pillow”

I still have moments where I catch myself with my daughter. Where I feel the young one inside of me who was not allowed to express her big feelings. Sometimes this part of me feels resentful and it expresses like reactivity. Then, it’s me pausing and having the self-awareness that that’s my internal healing process. That that part of me needs her own presence and empathy of her experience when she was younger. But it is not my daughters responsibility to hold that part of me. So as I catch the reactivity, I shift how I’m meeting my daughter. I let out some big breaths and soften into my heart as I hear and feel her upset. I get present to her experience and let my inner little one know that I’ve got her too.

So if you’re someone who grew up in a house where emotions were shut down, or simply not acknowledged, you too may have an unresolved young one living in you and you may unconsciously be reacting to your child from this place. You may add to your child’s storm and get big too which can very quickly turn into a monsoon. Or, you may be quick to want to fix the emotion and to downplay it. Anything other than the ability to simply rest into loving presence, inclusive of any necessary boundaries to keep you both safe, is pointing to unresolved places in your own self. These places in you also need and deserve rested loving attuned presence, which are skills we all can develop. Our children are brilliant beings, shining the light of awareness on what we need to love and presence inside of ourselves. They are not giving us a hard time, they are having a hard time. And if we’ve cultivated empathy for our own upset inner children, then we too can offer this in response to the ever arising needs and emotions of our physical children.

Big love and delight, Mandalena

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