The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired

This one trait is the best scientific predictor for how a child turns out—in terms of happiness, academic success, and relationships.

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Karsen: From the Parents Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


Karsen: Today, we’re discussing The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired. Written by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson.

In this title, the New York Times bestselling authors share that parenting isn’t easy, but that showing up is. They talk about the great impact you can make by consistently showing up for your children.

Karsen: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


Karsen: Vincent, parents have a lot of different responsibilities preparing children for a life filled with uncertainty, complex relationships, and challenges. How can parents connect with children and offer them support?

Vincent: Dr. Daniel J. Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is a pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist. In this title, the authors point out that when you’re growing up, you may notice that your friends’ relationships with their parents may be completely different than your own.

The bonds that we form with our parents affect us long into adulthood.

Karsen: Ideally, when do these bonds start?

Vincent: The bonds actually start in the early days and throughout childhood. Children who have their needs consistently met have the healthiest bonds with their parents, which psychologists call a secure attachment.

Karsen: How does this show up in the research?

Vincent: In one study from Mary Ainsworth, a developmental psychologist, was called the “Infant Strange Situation” test. In this study, caregivers left their babies in a new room alone or with strangers. When observing the families at home, Ainsworth found that babies whose parents provided sensitivity and consistent care were the most secure.

So when those parents left the room, the babies showed signs of missing them but were able to continue playing; when the parents returned, the babies greeted them before continuing to play.

Karsen: What does insecure attachment look like?

Vincent: Well, unfortunately not all the children received consistent care and affection. In some instances, parents are severely disconnected from their child’s needs, which can be upsetting for the child.

Karsen: What generally happens to children who develop forms of insecure attachment?

Vincent: The authors write that it typically develops into unhealthy behaviors like the suppression of their needs and emotions, general anxiety around and away from their parents, and even fear of their parents.

Many times, it can be hard for children with insecure attachments to move past the negative effects. These attachment styles follow us into adulthood and influence our relationships with other people, including our own children.

Karsen: And for those children, they probably struggle to trust and connect with others, right?

Vincent: Yes, because they’re disconnected from their feelings, it’s hard to have healthy and supportive relationships with their own children. When children are securely attached, they grow up experiencing good communication, and come to value it. It’s easier for them to manage their emotions, understand themselves, and others. So this ends up making connecting with their children easier too.

Karsen: Are these children destined to become bad parents because of how they were raised?

Vincent: Not necessarily. The authors point out that it’s possible to learn secure attachment later on in life. In order to do so, you would need to reflect on your childhood, sometimes with the help of a therapist, and acknowledge the negative effects it has had on you. That’s the first step towards healing and creating an environment where you can develop healthy relationships with your children.

Karsen: What are the general steps in building a strong and secure bond with your children?

Vincent: First and foremost, it starts with keeping them physically and emotionally safe. When children are exposed to threatening or harmful experiences, it impacts them socially and emotionally. This can take a toll on their mental development and health.

In one study by the CDC, over 15,000 participants were interviewed about their prior experiences with emotional and physical abuse, neglect, and dysfunctional homes.

Karsen: What did the study find?

Vincent: Well, it found that children exposed to negative experiences as a child were less capable of relating to others, they found it more difficult to handle challenges, and they had more health problems. Overall, they actually have shorter lifespans compared to those who weren’t exposed to these experiences.

Karsen: So it sounds like protecting a child from physical and emotional threats impacts their immediate well-being but also their future development.

Vincent: That’s right, it’s really a shame that sometimes parents can become a threat to their child’s safety. Different forms of aggression, whether it’s physical, verbal, or even implied through facial expressions and body language, can make children feel afraid and unsafe.

Karsen: So what can parents do to show up in a better way?

Vincent: The authors say that it’s okay to be frustrated from time to time, but we should pay close attention to our emotions and avoid being aggressive. When you feel yourself heating up, you can practice breathing exercises to calm down.

Another tip is when you do lose your temper, which will happen, you can help your child feel safe by apologizing afterward and making a point to spend time with them as soon as possible to bring the relationship back to normal.

Karsen: And that could help them understand that relationships aren’t always perfect, but they can be fixed. How should you communicate with your child?

Vincent: That’s true. So with communication, it’s encouraged to be open and help them process things that happen to them. If they’re being bullied at school, for example, they can learn that they can always turn to you to find safety.

Karsen: What are other ways of showing up for your children?

Vincent: The authors say that it starts with knowing their children and responding to their needs, which may sound easy, but isn’t always easy in reality.

Some parents let their own desires get in the way of knowing their kids. For example, you may have a dad who wants to raise a college athlete and completely misses the signs that their child is interested in music and wants to learn an instrument.

Karsen: That makes sense, or maybe a parent thinks their child is lazy and doesn’t want to get good grades, but they’re actually struggling socially with fitting in at school.

Vincent: Exactly. This can hurt the relationship with their parents because the children internalize what their parents think of them and develop distorted views of themselves. The child with poor grades may actually start to think of themselves as lazy, which can be problematic.

Karsen: How could someone better understand their child?

Vincent: It starts by being sensitive to their needs and being curious while taking the time to observe them. Being able to dig deeper and ask yourself why your children are behaving a certain way is critical.

Another way is to give children the opportunity to share their thoughts directly with you. This can help you learn more about their personality. When you spend time chatting, sharing stories about the day, and asking questions, this can lead to children revealing insights. Some may need some prompting before sharing, but creating the opportunity to share can help you understand your children and how to best support them.

Karsen: On another topic, when children are in distress, how can you help them handle their negative emotions?

Vincent: I’ve definitely seen this happen, for example, in a restaurant when a toddler is throwing a tantrum, sometimes their frustrated parent starts yelling and threatening them to stop…

Karsen: I’m guessing this just makes the child even more upset.

Vincent: Yea, I’ve definitely seen that. Siegel says that soothing your child is a better approach, and could even prevent future tantrums. When you meet your child’s outburst with empathy and comfort, they become more resilient and better capable of handling distress.

The authors worked with a Texas school district where they started responding to children’s outburst with soothing, and the teachers found that children calmed down much faster than when they were punished or given a time-out.

And over time, the tantrums were less severe, shorter, and less frequent as children learned how to self-soothe.

Karsen: How can parents practice this with their children?

Vincent: There’s a few techniques. One of them is by having a designated space at home where children can go when they feel upset. This isn’t a time-out corner or a place for punishment, but rather, a place for comforting.

Then, have a calming song or playlist to listen to. Another suggestion is physical activity like throwing a ball or running around. The movement helps people deal with emotions.

And lastly, you want your children to know that they can always reach out to their parents for help. Perhaps by creating a signal or code word.

When your child signals that they’re in distress, you need to respond in an attentive and caring way. That means being fully present, engaging through active listening, and showing affection with words, touch, and tone of voice. Your goal should be to be a source of calm, even if you’re upset as well.

And lastly, come down to your child’s eye level can help diffuse tension.

Karsen: Wow, I could definitely see how this approach would help them show empathy and could help them bring themselves back to a calm state even when their parents aren’t around. So the authors say that giving a sense of security that allows children to be safe, seen, and soothed which allows them to live fulfilling lives.

Vincent: That’s right. The authors actually refer to this as their four S’s. Safe, seen, soothed, and secured.

Safe is about giving a child a sense of safe harbor, where they will take the needed risks for growth and change.

Seen means truly seeing a child while paying attention to their emotions, both positive and negative. And trying to understand what’s happening in their mind beneath their behavior.

Soothed is talking about teaching your child how to cope when life gets hard, and showing them that you’ll be there along the way. That way, the child knows they won’t have to suffer alone.

And lastly, Secure means letting a child know that they can count on you, time and again, to show up. When you show up by providing the first three S’s, they’ll trust in a feeling of secure attachment from you.

Karsen: So this is not just talking about childhood, but really how as a parent you continue to invest in the relationship.

Vincent: Precisely, it’s talking about paying attention and looking for moments when your children need you, but it’s also talking about how you show up to reinforce the child’s feelings of being loved and supported.

When they have a sense of security, it allows children to step out into the world in a way where they’ll be excited to explore and learn, confident that they have someone to turn to when things go wrong.

When children feel this kind of support over and over again, they form new connections in their brain, and their sense of security becomes internalized. As adults, they’ll be more empowered, valued, and confident that whatever happens to them, they’ll be able to recover.

Karsen: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that by paying attention to a child’s inner worlds, feelings, and needs, parents can learn to respond in a way that nurtures their sense of secure attachment. When this happens, it helps form a stronger parent-child relationship where they feel valued and secure.


Karsen: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki. See you next time.


One of the very best scientific predictors for how any child turns out – in terms of happiness, academic success, leadership skills, and meaningful relationships – is whether at least one adult in their life has consistently shown up for them. In an age of scheduling demands and digital distractions, showing up for your child might sound like a tall order. But as best-selling authors Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson reassuringly explain, it doesn’t take a lot of time, energy, or money. Instead, showing up means offering a quality of presence. And it’s simple to provide once you understand the four building blocks of a child’s healthy development. Every child needs to feel what Siegel and Bryson call the Four S’s:

  • Safe: We can’t always insulate a child from injury or avoid doing something that leads to hurt feelings. But when we give a child a sense of safe harbor, she will be able to take the needed risks for growth and change.
  • Seen: Truly seeing a child means we pay attention to his emotions – both positive and negative – and strive to attune to what’s happening in his mind beneath his behavior.
  • Soothed: Soothing isn’t about providing a life of ease; it’s about teaching your child how to cope when life gets hard and showing him that you’ll be there with him along the way. A soothed child knows that he’ll never have to suffer alone.
  • Secure: When a child knows she can count on you, time and again, to show up – when you reliably provide safety, focus on seeing her, and soothe her in times of need, she will trust in a feeling of secure attachment. And thrive!

Based on the latest brain and attachment research, The Power of Showing Up shares stories, scripts, simple strategies, and tips for honoring the Four S’s effectively in all kinds of situations – when our kids are struggling or when they are enjoying success; when we are consoling, disciplining, or arguing with them; and even when we are apologizing for the times we don’t show up for them.

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