All Things New: Parenting with Presence with Dr. Dan Siegel

All Things New: Parenting With Presence with Dr. Dan Siegel

As single parents, one of the things we have in common is that we’re juggling so many balls in the air—all the time. We’re paying bills, keeping a job, cooking, cleaning, being a taxi driver . . . and trying to be a good parent all at the same time. Of course, all of these things keep our minds spinning as we try to forecast the next step or the next shoe that’s going to drop. But in the midst of all of this, how do we parent with presence?

So often on this podcast, we talk about how one of greatest things we can give our kids is our presence. So as we move into this new year and look at our parenting, how can we move towards being more fully present with our kids? What are some practical things we can do? Are there simple approaches we can take to be more engaged with our kids beyond the tactical keeping them fed, healthy, and clothed? That’s exactly what we’ll be diving into today.

Dr. Dan Siegel joined us to talk about what it looks like to parent with presence. Dan is a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness research center at UCLA. He’s also the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute and the author of six parenting books including three New York Times best sellers. His book, The Power of Showing Up, describes how parental presence shapes who our kids become and how their brains get wired. 

Showing Up for Our Kids

As solo parents, it can be difficult to show up and be fully present with your kids when you’re juggling the busyness of life and parenting alone. But you don’t have to go through life guessing. There are practical ways to show up for your kids amidst the busyness and it starts with Dr. Dan’s four S’s of being present:

  1. Safe
  2. Seen
  3. Soothe
  4. Security

When your kids have these four S’s in place in their lives, they’re more likely to have a better and more secure attachment to you and the world around them. Let’s take a look at each one.


Keeping your kids safe probably sounds like a no-brainer for you—especially as their parent. Safety can be about physical things and protecting them from external harm, but it can also be about not terrifying them emotionally. As parents, we want to connect with them in ways that are supportive and don’t lead to fear. 

Of course, we’ve all made mistakes and haven’t parented our best in all situations. And as single parents, it can be easy to make these mistakes under stress because you’re carrying the burden alone. Maybe you feel there are ways you’ve acted toward your kids that weren’t so great. Maybe you weren’t your wisest or kindest self. Dr. Dan reminds us that in those cases, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as perfect parenting. It’s really about showing up and being present as a parent. 

And when there’s been a rupture in the relationship with your child, you can make a repair. “Repairing those ruptures is really crucial and it’s the act of repair that is role modeling for your kid that there’s no such thing for any of us to be perfect but rather, to be present. And when we realize we’ve goofed up, instead of beating yourself up, you can do what one mom said to me in the preschool when I first started teaching this. She said, ‘I realize it’s not my fault, but it is my responsibility.’ It was so powerful because we can flip our lids from certain vulnerabilities we may have had from our own traumas. But that means it’s not our fault. You don’t have to beat yourself up and feel like you’re a terrible person. And at the same time, you can take the responsibility to make a repair.”


Seeing your kids means that you as a parent aren’t just paying attention to the external behavior of your child. It means you’re sensing their mind, feelings, memory, perception, point of view, intentions, hopes and dreams. Dr. Dan explained that when you see your child, you’re seeing the mind beneath your child’s behavior. 

That’s what Dr. Dan calls mindsight. “Parents who have mindsight and use it have children who do much better than parents who don’t apply these mindsight things. It means you have the ability to sense your own inner mental life and make sense of your feelings, your memories, your intentions. You have an awareness that is receptive to all that stuff inside. And if you have leftover garbage from your own childhood, you can work on that.”

When it comes to parenting with presence, you have to start with your own mindsight abilities, reflecting on your own childhood experiences and how they affected you and even how you adapted to those experiences. If you weren’t seen as a child, you can still develop your mindsight . . . no matter how old you are. 

A big part of developing your mindsight is empathy. Ask your child how they’re feeling with curiosity. For instance, ask them, ‘I wonder if you’re feeling sad?’ Asking them in that way shows them that you’re using your own brain with curiosity and asking them to share how they’re feeling instead of telling them what they’re feeling. It’s taking an interest rather than demanding. “Seeing another person uses your mindsight lens so you have empathy and integration. This is where you’re saying, ‘I’m not going to make my child feel what I feel. I realize we are different people.’ This is honoring to your child.”


When a child is in distress, soothing them would help take them from distress to calm and clarity. “A young child needs the parent to regulate their own inner state. Soothing would be when a child is distressed, they don’t have the tools to take themselves from distress to calm and clarity. So our interactions with them are called coregulating.” Dr. Dan explained that when a child gets older, they’re able to self-soothe, especially if they had a parent that helped them coregulate as a child. But those kids who didn’t may have a harder time regulating their internal life. 

The big three uncomfortable emotions are anger, sadness, and fear. “If you have trouble with one of those emotions because of your own background or your own temperament, you need to do the work to figure out why their anger agitates you.” If your child’s anger causes you to get angry and it becomes a repeating pattern, you know you have some work to do. The same thing can be said with fear and sadness. “If there’s a repeating pattern of the same kind of situation that is throwing you off and getting you to flip your lid, then, in a loving and gentle way, make a repair with your child and do an investigation into your own life so this doesn’t have to happen anymore. Then you can say, it’s not my fault, but it’s my responsibility.” 

One helpful acronym for soothing in a present way is PART. PART means present, attunement, resonance (allowing yourself to feel your child’s feelings without becoming your child), and trust. “We were meant to be in relationship with each other. These moments of big distress are often moments where we feel alone. But when we join our children in them, it’s soothing.”


Dr. Dan shared that when you can provide the first three s’s: safety, seen, and soothe while making repairs on a reliable basis, then security happens. When your child is able to say these things, they have security: 

“I can have my needs met in my interaction with others. I can be aware of what’s going on inside of me. I can take myself from a distressing situation to a calm situation. I can reach out to others for mutually rewarding relationships. I have an understanding of how emotions play an important role in my life and in other people’s lives. I have emotional intelligence. I have social intelligence.”

Security is all about giving them a safe haven to come to while also being a launching pad where they can go out into the world and find their way. When you’re a present parent, your child is more likely to be able to do just that. And one of the most important parts about being a present parent is looking inward and making sense of your own life. “Your child’s security or attachment is best predicted by how you make sense of your own life. Secure attachment gives you courage to go out into the world.” 

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