Helping Kids Feel Soothed and Secure
Parenthood can certainly have its challenges while also encompassing some of life’s most beautiful moments. The role of a parent is irreplaceable, and the bond between parent and child is vital to the child’s development. As mentioned in my previous blogs, we discussed how a child’s developing brain is strongly impacted by the way parents engage with their child. In Dan Siegel’s (2) book, The Power of Showing Up, he highlights how “predictable care that supports a healthy and empowering relationship embodies what we call the Four S’s.” Today, we will focus on the last two: Soothe and Secure.
Showing up for your kids also means offering your presence to help soothe them (2, p. 153). According to Siegel (2), “when a child is in distress – when she’s suffering emotionally and her nervous system is sending her into fight, flight, freeze, or faint – that negative state can be shifted by an interaction with a caregiver who shows up for her” (p. 153). While the pain may not dissipate, the act of soothing will let the child know they are not alone in their pain. That is why attuning to a child’s inner state (i.e., seeing them, as in one of the four Ss) is so important. It helps them feel heard, understood, and known in their pain, thus helping them feel soothed when pain occurs (p. 153). According to Kelly McDaniel (1), “infants who receive attunement from a primary caregiver in the first three years are better able to manage and access a wide range of emotions as they grow and learn” (p. 30). Do you see how all of this is coming together?
Not only does a caregiver help a child’s developing brain by guiding the child through the soothing process, but the act also offers the child the empowerment to one day soothe him or herself (2). As the caregiver soothes the child, the child’s brain builds neurological circuits for inner soothing (2, p. 154). According to Seigel (2), “through the power of neuroplasticity, promoting change within the hardware of their brains will allow them to develop significantly greater resilience, as well as live fuller and happier lives” (p. 155). Coursey (3) adds how soothing allows children to form pathways that help them return to joy quickly after experiencing upsetting emotions (p. 53). As the parent co-regulates with the child, with co-regulation being the umbrella term that encompasses tools like soothing, the child eventually learns how to quiet him or herself on his/her own. Interestingly enough, “quieting from upset is one of the most important skills a baby can learn and is the number one predictor of stable emotional health” (3, p. 53). This is powerful!
I find it beautiful that the first three Ss shared within this blog, safe, seen, and soothed, all contribute to a child feeling secure (2, p. 195) and forming secure attachment. When a parent reliably and consistently cares for a child by using the four Ss, it helps a child develop a secure base from which they can explore. If the opposite happens, a child does not develop a sense of security, thus resulting in the other forms of anxious attachment discussed in part one of this series. When a caregiver is unable to show up using the four Ss, children “often demonstrate challenges with close relationships, difficulty reasoning under stressful conditions, or anxiety about trying new things or leaving their comfort zone” (2, p. 205). Security brings a sense of empowerment to the child. (2). The child is empowered to explore, engage in relationships, return to joy upon experiencing distressing emotions, and have greater resilience upon experiencing life’s unexpected challenges. Showing up for your kids utilizing the four Ss is truly valuable for a child’s development in the present and future.
As previously stated, the goal in showing up for your kids is not to parent perfectly, but rather, to parent predictability. However, as humans, we are bound to make mistakes, especially when raising our kids (Coursey, p. 49). All parents can learn how to show grace to themselves when they’ve messed up. When a caregiver is in a reactive state, it is common for a relational injury to occur. The act of repairing after a conflict is especially important. (2, p. 102). It is vital to remember that people are bigger than problems. The act of repair will communicate to the child that your love does not change for them even though there is conflict (2, p. 102). It enhances that sense of security they long to experience with a caregiver.
According to Wilder (4), “attachment research tells us the importance of repair after we fail to connect with our children in their time of need” (p. 115). The repair is not a time to justify your mistakes, but rather, take ownership and apologize for the pain you may have caused (3, p. 49). Parents who are diligent in the repair process “work hard to repair the relationship when ruptures happen. They try to fill in gaps when they discover specific holes in their own maturity. They work hard at developing skills they missed so they have more to pass on“ (3 p. 49). It is hard work, but parents have the responsibility to grow in their own emotional maturity as they do the work alongside their kids.
We have covered a lot of material within this blog series! My hope has been to provide encouragement to caregivers who desire to be intentionally proactive in their parenting. Showing up for our kids by helping them feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure, while also being intentional in the repair process, provides them with a tremendous opportunity to grow in joy and become securely attached children and adults.
- McDaniel, Kelly (2021). Mother hunger: A path for daughters to reclaim lost maternal love. Hay House Inc.
- 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.
- Wilder, E. J., Kang, A., Loppnow, J., Loppnow, S. (2015). Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel. East Peoria, IL: Shepherd’s House Inc.