Emotional connection, initiated by an adult caretaker, is important because it supports several extremely important aspects of a child’s emotional development.
Connecting with the emotional experience of an infant supports a reciprocal emotional connection from the infant.
Within this emotional connection the infant is supported to be self-aware of their emotions as a result of their caretaker mirroring and reflecting back the child’s emotional experience; including with words that ultimately become the vocabulary with which children can describe their emotional experience.
Within this emotional connection the infant is supported to be aware of the emotions of others, which ultimately manifests as a capacity to feel and express empathy and to regulate their behaviour out of a concern for the experience of others (also known as socio-emotional reciprocity). This is vital for getting along with others and experiencing mutually-satisfying relationships.
By connecting with the infant and returning to calm themselves, adult caretakers assist the infant to regulate their emotions (co-regulation) until the infant can do so themselves (self-regulation).
Through adult caretakers tuning in to the emotions of the infant and helping them to return to calm, the adult caretaker supports the infant’s safe exploration of emotions and a broad emotional repertoire.
Further, within this emotional connection the adult caretaker offers experiences of being heard and understood on an emotional level, thereby supporting positive representations of self and other, reassurance (and, thereby, lower arousal levels), and trust that the caretaker can be relied upon, including for needs provision.
In the CARE Therapeutic Framework and the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care, I support parents and caregivers to be more aware of the vital role of emotional connection and how to enrich a child’s experience of it, in support of positive developmental outcomes for children.
I would also direct the reader to my resources supporting trauma informed care and practice in the home and school settings.