The Power of Showing up is the latest parenting book by Daniel J. Siegel M.D and Tina Payne Bryson, PH.D the authors of The Whole Brain Child, No Drama Discipline, and The Yes Brain. These are some of my favourite parenting books, they are science based with lots of specific examples on how to handle different situations. This book did not disappoint, it had lots science, but also visual examples that were helpful.
This new book is described as a parent’s approach to child rearing. It is about what they call the 4 S’s which are steps to develop a secure attachment with your children. The four S’s are Safe, Seen, Soothed and Secure. The author’s want stress the importance of showing up for our kids and provide them with predictable care. This involves forming strong bonds with our children by responding to their needs and dependably providing them with comfort. This doesn’t mean you are solving all their problems and prevent them from experiencing any negative consequences in life. It means when life inevitably leads to hardship and obstacles you are there to make life a little less hard to deal with.
There are many benefits to children who grow up with secure attachment. Children that have strong bonds with their caregivers have happier and more fulfilling lives. These children develop self awareness and emotional reliance, and being able to regulate your emotions means that you can make better decisions. When kids feel safe their energy can be used to learn and develop. Without the stress associated with difficult living situations children developed confidence and self-reliance.
Before the books starts to discuss the 4 S’s it takes the time for the parent to do some self reflection. Before we start to learn how to provide secure attachment to our kids, the authors wants us to understand how we were raised, and how that impacted us. First we need a coherent narrative about our own pasts then we can be more effective parents. In this part, the book goes into great detail around the four types of attachment categories. The first one, secure, is what we are trying to achieve by reading this book. The remaining categories are types of insecure attachment, they are insecure-avoidant, insecure-ambivalent, and the most severe being insecure-disorganized. Pick up the book if you want to learn more about these categories, it goes into detail on how an adult will develop based on the attachment they received as a child. A study conducted around 1 year old’s attachment to their parents, showed that most of the kids remained in the same attachment category as they grew up. But this doesn’t mean that your history has to define you. Even if you didn’t grow up with secure attachment from your parents it is something that can be learned. When we examine our past, and tell our stories, we are neither running or becoming preoccupied by it. That means that even parents who have to earn their security can be just as effective parents as those who had more optimal childhoods.
The rest of the books discusses the 4 S’s. I will try to summarize them as much as I can below.
The first ‘S’ is Safe. Children need to not just feel physically safe, but emotionally protected as well. Safety is the foundation for the other three steps below.
Being physically safe involves taking care of the core needs of basic survival, like food (eating the veggies), shelter and protection (safe from physical and emotional harm). When a child is safe it creates a state of trust that is best for optimal development, it allows the brain to be receptive and ready to be engaged in learning. Children who feel safe, can overcome challenges. As parents this feeling of safety can be maintained by making sure we repair the relationship at those times when we make mistakes. When we slip up and act in a way that is less then ideal, it can be a learning opportunity for our kids. It can teach them how to deal with difficult situations, as long as you always come back and apologize for your behaviour. The authors also want to point out that keeping your kids safe does not mean shielding them from any danger or hardship. It means that during these times, we walk beside them and by doing so they learn to feel safe even while taking chances.
The books also goes through the following, as ways that prevent a child from feeling safe. The number one thing the author’s want to be avoided, is when the parent becomes the source of a child’s fear. The reasons for this can be abuse, neglect and overall dysfunction. There is the risk of undermining the secure attachment you are trying to develop when you humiliate, shame or yell at your children. Other things that prevents kids from feeling safe, is being exposed to things they are development unready for, such as movies, games, and photographs that may feature violent or sexual content.
Showing up is about being there with your children as they learn to manage whatever obstacles they face.
The next ‘S’ is being Seen. This is more then just being physically there for you kids. Its about seeing who they are on to the inside, and focusing your attention on their inner feelings, thoughts and memories. When we are seeing our children, we are trying to understand what is happening in their minds, behind the behaviour we see on the outside.
There are 3 steps the books suggests we can do to help our children feel known. Creating consistent connection and sincere efforts along each of theses steps, is enough to make a difference in how your kids feel.
- Attune to their mental state (Perceive)
- Commit to understand their inner life, by trying to think about what is going on inside their minds (Make Sense)
- Respond to what you see, in a timely manner (Respond)
The hardest thing to do when trying to really see our children, is learning to let go of any labels and comparisons. When we use these to categorize our kids it prevents us from really seeing them for who they are. Some examples from the book are:
- The baby of the family
We have to remind ourselves that our kids are individuals, and when we use these labels we fail to see our kids clearly. Try to let go of your initial assumptions and interpretations, and make the time to be present and really get to know them.
Soothing is about being there for our kids during their toughest times. When their feelings get big and things get difficult, we are there to help them calm down and make good decisions. Our job is to teach them how to ride the waves of emotions and always be there when they need us.
The author’s give the following advice on how to soothe our kids. First, when kids are out of control we need to calm them down. In order to promote calm in our kids, we need to stay calm ourselves. If you learn to display the correct behavior in response to a child’s intense reactions, it can change the child’s behaviour for the better, and they will calm down more quickly. So when a child is acting out try to give empathy, connection, soothing and support. Here are some examples in the book how to soothe a child.
Offer Your P.E.A.C.E
PRESENCE – Be there for them.
ENGAGEMENT – This is about how we give our attention. A lot of communication is non-verbal, so don’t forget to make eye contact, and show with your body that you are actively listening to what they have to say. The power of touch can be very effective on some people, a hand on the shoulder or a hug can go a long way.
AFFECTION – You can’t spoil your kids by giving them too much love and affection. Do everything you can to make them feel fully loved.
CALM – If you stay calm while your child is upset, it will do a lot to help them calm down. Be a model for them what it looks like to stay calm and express emotions, without loosing control. A way to help your kids regain their calm, is to come up with strategies ahead of time such as listening to music, moving their bodies or having a place, like a fort, they can go to regain their composure.
EMPATHY – Try to feel your child’s emotions with them or at least try to understand and acknowledge how they are feeling. You can say no to their bad behaviours, while at the same time saying yes to what they are feeling.
To understand kids emotions the author talks about the Red, Green and Blue zones. We want to use the P.E.A.C.E methods above to return our kids to the green zone when they stray. The red zone is when your kid is fired up in anger or fear. It is when there is a inner chaos happening. The Blue Zone is when your child is overwhelmed by their emotions and freeze, hide or shut down. If your child has left the green zone they may need your help to regain control. Remember to wait until your child is back in the green zone, before you address and talk about any negative behaviour. When they are upset they may not be able to listen to what you are trying to teach them.
These are the reasons that the authors say soothing our kids is important. “When we give your kids repeated experiences of interactive soothing it can lead to an internalized capacity for the child to soothe themselves when they need it.” The goal when we soothe our kids is creating inner self regulation, where kids learn to regulate their own inner mind and emotions.
All of the above combined creates a sense of security and predictability for our kids. When we provide our kids with all the things above, over time they will need to depend on us less. When a kid grows up with security, it means that it will be less necessary that they will need someone else to provide any of the 4 S’s. Finally the authors say that children with secure attachment develop the characteristics and skills that allow them to live happier and more successful lives.