By Brandy Browne
Mother Teresa said, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” There are no perfect parents, and there is no sure fire way to ensure that your children will become who you hope that they will be. However, all research shows that the key to helping build kind, resilient children who will grow into the next generation of world changers centers around spending quality time with our children on a regular basis. Dr. Daniel Siegel, best selling author and psychiatrist, and Dr. TIna Payne Bryson, best selling author and founder/executive director of the Play Strong Institute, articulate this fact in their 2020 book, The Power of Showing Up. “What’s the single most important thing I can do for my kids to help them succeed and feel at home in the world?” parents ask. The answer is simple, says Siegel and Bryson. “Show up for your kids” (Siegel & Bryson, 2020, p xiii).
But what does it mean to “show up” for our kids? It’s not enough to merely be there in physical body. I can sit beside my child and be present in body, but never really attend to him, being present mentally as well. If we want our children to feel at home in our presence, to know they are loved, and to develop the relationship that helps them grow and thrive, Siegel and Bryson (2020) argue that we must focus on the four S’s. First, our children must feel safe in our presence. They must know that they will not be placed in harm’s way. Mom and Dad should always be a child’s safe place. Second, they must feel seen. Tonight, that meant not retreating to the peaceful bed I wanted to lay on, and squishing in between two of my children on the couch giggling hysterically at silly videos they wanted to watch. Last night, it meant cuddling with my youngest and reading her a story, even though I was not feeling my best. It means that I have spent enough time with my oldest to know that she twirls her hair when she is nervous. My son begins to chew on his sleeve. My youngest clings to my leg. I don’t have to wonder what is going through their brains. We are in tune enough with one another that I know and therefore, I can respond in a way that helps alleviate the stress that they are feeling. Third, our children must feel soothed. When their world comes crashing down, they can have faith that we will be there to help them pick up the pieces. When my oldest is suffering anxiety, I must be her calming force through gentle touch and a soft voice in her ear, anchoring her back to her safe place. If I grow impatient and irritable, she does not feel soothed. Her anxiety grows more intense. Finally, our children must feel secure. They know that our love is unconditional, and that a bad day or moment cannot change that.
So how do we do that, exactly? Simply put, we are intentional about creating regular opportunities to step into our children’s world. While I advocate for sharing your interests and passions with your children, children are not built to step into an adult environment. Their needs are different. They need multidimensional sensory experiences to make sense of the world. We must get down on their level. Our children learn who they can be, who they want to be, and who they are from their interactions with us. When we are intentional about planning for time for them, they become courteous and intentional in their relationships with others, a skill that will carry them the rest of their lives.
We don’t have to be perfect. In fact, moments of imperfection can be great for meaningful discussions and learning opportunities. Our children will learn how to handle failure and moments that do not go the way we wished they had by watching how we handle disappointment. It’s okay to make mistakes, to have a bad day, but it is not okay to not show up. Show up, over and over, every day, good moments and bad. Those moments will be the cornerstones to a powerful relationship and healthy brain development in your children. Children spell love T-I-M-E, and it is an investment worth making for them.
Siegel, D. & Bryson, T. (2020). The power of showing up: How parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired. Random House.