Helping Kids Feel Seen and Safe
It is evident that a parent’s relationship with their child dramatically shapes the child’s developing brain. We were created for relationships, and one of the most important relationships can be found between a child and a caregiver. In Dan Siegel’s (1) book, The Power of Showing Up, he highlights how parents can care for a child to create healthy, secure attachment. Before we jump into what this means and how caregivers can be intentional in helping a child’s brain develop optimally, I’d like to speak to parents who feel the pressure to be perfect. Perfection is not the most effective goal for caregiving, but rather, it’s predictability. According to Siegel (1), “predictable care that supports a healthy and empowering relationship embodies what we call the Four S’s” (p. 6). These entail: Safe, Seen, Soothed and Secure. Today, we will focus on the first two: Safe and Seen.
Helping Kids Feel Safe
Have you ever had that moment as a parent where you forgot to add a cushioned bumper to one end of the coffee table, the same corner that your child happens to run into? You attempted to make your home as safe as possible, but again, proactive parenting does not expect perfection. Which means, creating safety cannot always guarantee a safe world. The goal of this proactive step is to help our kids “feel safe with the assurance for them to know they are safe” (1, p. 10). Coursey (2) adds, “our goal is not to wrap them in a bubble, but to help them learn how to experience hard things and bounce back” (p. 78). According to Siegel (1), “safety is the core aspect of our attachment experience. It allows kids to feel connected and protected” (p. 79).
So what does it mean for a child to feel safe and know they are safe? It is creating a relationship where they know you will protect them from harm, while also not becoming a source of threat (1, p. 82). Coursey (1) states, “babies are bonding machines born to attach at the mercy of parents and caregivers to meet their needs” (p.72). Growing joyful children entails meeting their needs with consistency and predictability. They know you will be there for them. Siegel (1) states, “when faced with a threat, the brain sends signals that the child should find mom or dad or another attachment figure – immediately” (p.7). A parent creates safety for their child when their child falls on the playground and comes running to the parents for comfort and the parent is there to remind him/her that everything will be okay. Siegel states, “this sense of safety emerges from the nervous system’s physiological experience of safety and creates a deep state of trust, allowing for optimal development and resilience in the face of challenges” (1, p. 79).
Helping Kids Feel Seen
This is probably one of my favorite topics to cover as I often speak with parents about this within the counseling room. What does it mean to see your child, or better yet, for your child to feel seen by you? The first, is to offer your presence, physically. This means showing up to their events, ball games, recitals, graduations…you name it. But seeing a child is more than being physically present, it means tuning into what they are feeling and how they are experiencing their world (1). It’s not just about showing up (i.e., quantity); it is more than just being physically present. It’s about the quality of your showing up.
According to Chris Coursey (2), “attunement is the art of reading your child’s body language so you can recognize their emotional state and meet them there” (p. 31). Coursey (2) would argue that a parent’s job begins here (p. 33). Oftentimes, as caregivers, we can respond to our kid’s outward expressions and miss what our child is experiencing internally. When a caregiver begins to focus on what is happening on the inside, identifying the feeling behind the behavior, it helps a child feel known and understood (1). As parents provide an opportunity to dive into what their child is feeling, it helps children make sense of what is going on inside their mind. According to Siegel (1), “research has demonstrated that when we see our child’s mind, our child will learn to see his/her own mind as well. We call this ability ‘mindsight.’ And it’s at the heart of emotional and social intelligence” (p. 11). Siegel (1) concludes that caregivers who work on their mindsight skills “generally have children who become securely attached” (p. 116). How powerful is that!
Allowing our children to feel seen provides the benefit that they “are in safe hands and it’s okay to bring their big emotions to us” (2, p. 35). When a child feels dismissed, blamed, or shamed amid his/her feelings, it results in the child feeling alone with their emotions. The child’s “developing brain will find it nearly impossible to navigate his/her way back to joy” (2, p. 36) because joy is relational – we need each other! I encourage you, as a proactive parent, to dive into your child’s world with curiosity, patience, and a willingness to attune, as this approach is the basis of a healthy relationship (1, p. 120).
Without a doubt, our interactions with our children and the way they feel safe and seen with us, dramatically impacts their developing brains and attachment. As mentioned in the beginning of this series, our goal as parents is not perfection, but rather, predictability. May our kids come to grow and learn that we will do our best to keep them safe, to feel safe, and to be known and seen by us. I encourage you to stay tuned for the final post that shares the remainder of the Four S’s (Soothed and Secure) and practical ways to show up for our kids.
- Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2021). The power of showing up: How parental presence
shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired. Ballantine Books.
- Warner, M., & Coursey, C. (2021). 4 Habits of raising joy-filled kids: A simple model for
developing your child’s maturity-at every stage. Northfield Publishing.