Interactional Synchrony, A Priceless Treasure: The Dance of Life Article Series
By Dr. Joyce at The Caring Heart from Spokane Washington

“Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

My most vivid memory of interactional synchrony appeared in a child development film I watched many years ago. A baby was lying on a pad and the baby’s arms and legs were gracefully moving in perfect harmony with the baby’s mother’s voice. What a perfect picture of contentment and connectedness at a deep emotional level!

Now days the term “get connected” is popular. Well, basically that term means acting in synchrony with one another, leading, following, matching, or meshing with one another physically, intellectually, and, most important for future well-being and wholeness, emotionally.

There exists now a great deal of evidence that the capacity for interactional synchrony comes to exist in a child because of the very early training the child has received from his or her mother. When a baby communicates in some way, through motions, crying, gurgling and laughing, or whatever, and the mother shows empathy, acceptance of the baby’s feelings, and reciprocates in a manner that lets the baby know his or her mother has understood at an emotional level, the baby feels secure, connected to her, and content. If the mother does not respond, or over- or under-responds, the baby becomes quickly distressed and feels frightened, insecure and disconnected from her.

Moreover, through thousands and thousands of interactions with mom, for better or for worse, the baby’s actual, physical brain is being formed to be wholesomely capable of connected, synchronous emotional interpersonal relationships, or to be hampered, often to a severe level. Training and learning do result in brain changes. Critical nerve cell firing channels, from the lower emotional centers to the higher thought centers can be richly developed and functional, or can be sparsely developed or actually nonexistent, resulting in persons who appear to be unable to feel or show empathy or compassion, such as sociopaths and psychopaths, who harm animals and other people terribly.

Because training in interactional synchrony helps to develop the physical brain in crucial ways, the mother’s harmonious, connected responds to her child are thought to form the foundation for the child’s future interpersonal relationships into adulthood.

Oftentimes, the word “love” is used freely, but is not often really defined, as if “everyone” knows what love is. Well, I contend that true love includes the desire to be close to the loved one, to really connect in synchrony, and to respond with one’s whole heart to the expressed needs and desires of the loved one. It means focusing on being really sensitive to someone else, and responding accordingly, time after time. When we live with interactional synchrony at the forefront of our lives, we promote whole, loving, content people, who show empathy and compassion. When we omit responding, or act in disharmonious, callous, indifferent ways, we promote angry, cold, harmful people. Which we do makes a crucial difference, in the end, to life on this planet and to God’s Kingdom. To me, it is not at all hard to be convinced about what Jesus wants.

Not enough attention has been given in Christianity to the very foundations of good human emotional and social development, whereas the vertical relationship to God has been the greatest focus. Whether or not it is focused upon, interactional synchrony or chaotic disharmony goes on all the time, endlessly, for better or worse. The “nitty-gritty” of how we are relating affects every single person, including any animal persons, for all of everyone’s lives. No small thing, believe me. Physical health is affected tremendously also, as is intellectual growth and achievement, career success, marriage and parenting success, and on and on.

Well, I hope I’ve made my point! We can all be aware. We can all focus more upon being warm, sensitive responders to one another, sharing our hopes, dreams, and feelings, and being “there” for others, paying attention and showing it.

Copyright 2011 Dr. Joyce The Caring Heart

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