This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wire
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“Virtually all parenting questions and dilemmas come down to the idea of relationship” – write Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson in the introduction to “The Power of Showing Up.” And that’s precisely what their fourth collaborative effort is all about: the why’s and how’s of healthy parent-child connections.
So, get ready to discover why your child’s happiness later in life depends upon the quality of your presence in their infancy – and prepare to learn what you can do to stack the odds in their favor!
First formulated by British psychologist John Bowlby in the 1960s, attachment theory proposes that “children who form strong bonds – secure attachments – with their parents at a very young age lead much happier and more fulfilling lives.”
These attachment bonds, write Siegel and Bryson, are formed “when parents respond to the needs of their children and dependably provide comfort, as when they pick them up when they cry, or hold and reassure them when they are upset. When children experience this type of reliable behavior and connection, they are then freed to learn and develop without having to use attention or energy to survive, or to remain hypervigilant, watching for slight changes in their environment or in their caregivers.”
In the 1970s, developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth put Bowlby’s theory to the test. First, she and her colleagues made visits to several homes and carefully assessed mother-infant interactions during the first year of the infants’ lives. Then, at the end of the year, each mother-infant pair was brought into a room where the babies were subsequently separated from their mothers and put in “strange situations” for the next 20 minutes – either left alone or with a stranger. Different infants reacted differently to the situations. The biggest difference could be observed in the infants’ responses to the mother’s return. Some children freely explored the new environment and were happy upon their parent’s reappearance. Others explored a little and either didn’t respond to the mother coming back at all or responded with confusion and ambivalence.
After repeating the experiment several times, Ainsworth discovered that there was a direct correlation between the assessments of the mother-infant interactions at home and the reactions of the infants in these strange situations. More precisely, she extracted four basic attachment patterns:
Securely-attached children are raised by sensibly sensitive parents, attuned to their infants’ innate need for connection. Such parents are able to read their children’s cues and predictably meet them. They are not only sometimes around – but at all times. In simpler words, they “show up” for their children, providing them with a “secure base” from which to explore their world.
But what does showing up mean? “Showing up means what it sounds like,” Siegel and Bryson write. “It means being there for your kids. It means being physically present, as well as providing a quality of presence. [It means] bringing your whole being – your attention and awareness – when you’re with your child.” It doesn’t mean being perfect or signing your children for all the right enrichment activities; it just means understanding and meeting their needs consistently and predictably.
Predictable care embodies what Siegel and Bryson call the four S’s because it strives to help children feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure. Children can only feel safe when they are protected and sheltered from harm. But they also have to know that their parents see them and care about their needs.
Moreover, children should be able to rely on them and be certain that their parents will be there for them when they are hurting. Based on these three S’s, they should be able to build a secure base around their parents’ presence and use it to feel “at home” in the world as well, “then learn to help themselves feel safe, seen, and soothed.”
Safety, defined in the plainest possible terms, is the opposite of threat. It’s also “the first step toward a strong attachment: a caregiver helps the child be safe and therefore feel safe.” When it comes to keeping their children safe, parents have two primary jobs: to protect them from harm and to avoid becoming a source of fear and threat. The following three strategies promote feelings of safety in children:
Truly seeing your children – according to Siegel and Bryson – consists of three actions: “(1) attuning to their internal mental state on a profound and meaningful level; (2) coming to understand their inner life; and (3) responding to what we see in a timely and effective manner.” This three-step process, they claim, helps children to “feel felt,” and can be triggered through the following two strategies:
Being safe and seen can make a big difference in a child’s life; however, neither will help a child in distress establish a healthy connection to the world. In situations such as this, a parent must go beyond observing and demonstrate to the child that they are not alone in this world and that things will eventually turn out okay.
The best way for a parent to express this is by being present, by bearing witness to the child’s distress through their whole being. The child might still suffer even after the interaction, but at least they won’t be alone in their pain. Moreover, based on this “intersoothing,” the child should learn to provide “inner soothing” for themselves in the future.
These two strategies should help your children develop the capacity to self-soothe:
“The fourth S results from the first three,” write Siegel and Bryson. “We give our kids a secure base when we show them that they are safe, that there’s someone who sees them and cares for them intimately, and that we will soothe them in distress. They then learn to keep themselves safe, to see themselves as worthy, to soothe themselves when things go wrong.” There are two basic strategies to promote a secure base for your child:
Described as “the ultimate guide to family reconnection” by New York Times bestselling author Wendy Mogel, “The Power of Showing Up” should help parents not only understand their children better but also respond to them in ways that communicate “I hear you.”
To quote a Booklist review, “parents looking for solid research delivered in an accessible manner will find Siegel and Bryson getting the job done well yet again.”
Be present with your children – physically and mentally. That’s what showing up means.
Tina Payne Bryson is an American psychotherapist. She is the founder and executive director of The Center for Connection, a multidisciplinary clinical practice in Southern California and of the Play Strong Institute. She is bes... (Read more)
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., is an acclaimed author, award-winning educator, executive director of the Mindsight Institute, and clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. Internationally renowned, he is the author of several highly praised bestselling books, such as “Mindsi... (Read more)
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