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When It Comes to Parenting, Just Showing Up Has More Power Than You Think logo 08/01/2020 Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.,Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
a little boy that is standing in the grass: mom-kissing-child © Provided by mom-kissing-child

There’s no such thing as flawless child-rearing. (We’ll pause while you let out a deep, relieved breath.) So raise a warm, left-in-the-minivan juice box to all of us imperfect parents out there.

At some level we all know this, but many of us — especially committed, thoughtful, intentional parents — consistently fall prey to feelings of anxiety or inadequacy. We worry about our children and their safety, of course, but we also worry that we’re not being “good enough” in the way we’re raising them. We worry that our kids won’t grow up to be responsible or resilient or relational or ... (fill in the blank). We worry about the times we let them down, or hurt them. We worry that we’re not giving them enough attention, or that we’re giving them too much attention. We even worry that we worry too much!

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We’ve written our new book, The Power of Showing Up, for all the imperfect parents who care deeply about their kids (as well as for imperfect grandparents and teachers and professionals and anyone else who cares for a child). We have one central message full of comfort and hope: When you’re not sure how to respond in a given situation with your child, don’t worry. There’s one thing you can always do, and it’s the best thing of all. Instead of worrying, or trying to attain some standard of perfection that simply doesn’t exist, just show up.

Showing up means what it sounds like. It means being there for your kids. It means being physically present, as well as providing a quality of presence. Provide it when you’re meeting their needs; when you’re expressing your love to them; when you’re disciplining them; when you’re laughing together; even when you’re arguing with them. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to read all the parenting bestsellers, or sign your kids up for all the right enrichment activities. You don’t have to have a committed co-parent. You don’t even have to know exactly what you’re doing. Just show up.

Cute little girl helping a grown up do the dishes. © Getty Cute little girl helping a grown up do the dishes. Showing up means bringing your whole being — your attention and awareness — when you’re with your child. When we show up, we are mentally and emotionally present for our child in that moment. In many ways, there is no other time but now — this present moment of time — and you are in charge of learning how to show up in ways that will both greatly empower you as a parent and promote resilience and strength in your child. It’s this power of presence that enables us to create an empowered mind for our children — even if we mess up on a regular basis. 

Depending on your background and what kind of parents you had as a child, showing up for your own kids might come naturally. Or, you might find it difficult. You might even recognize at this moment that you’re not showing up for your kids in a consistent way, either physically or emotionally.

© Getty Of course we all make better and worse decisions as parents, and there are all kinds of skills we can attain to help our children develop in optimal ways. But when you get right down to it, parenting is about simply being present for our kids. The longitudinal research on child development clearly demonstrates that one of the very best predictors for how any child turns out — in terms of happiness, social and emotional development, leadership skills, meaningful relationships, and even academic and career success — is whether they developed security from having at least one person who showed up for them.

When a caregiver predictably (not perfectly) cares for a child, that child will enjoy the very best outcomes, even in the face of significant adversity. Predictable care that supports a healthy and empowering relationship embodies what we call the "Four S’s” — helping kids feel (1) safe — they feel protected and sheltered from harm; (2) seen — they know you care about them and pay attention to them; (3) soothed — they know you’ll be there for them when they’re hurting; and (4) secure — based on the other S’s, they trust you to predictably help them feel “at home” in the world, then learn to help themselves feel safe, seen, and soothed.

Loving African American mother and daughter © Getty Loving African American mother and daughter When we can offer kids the Four S’s, making repairs whenever the inevitable ruptures in these connections with our children may occur, we help create what’s called “secure attachment,” and it’s absolutely key to optimal healthy development.

There should never be any doubt in their minds about whether we will show up during hard times. They should know, at their core, that when they are hurting, and even when they’re at their worst, we will be there.

(An excerpt from The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired, by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.)


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