Featured Editorial

Empower Your Child with the 3 R's of SELF-REG- Recognize, Reduce, Restore

Parenting is one of the most challenging roles that we will ever fulfill, however, the potential for future rewards outweighs all odds. Finding and following the advice of trusted, reputable child development specialists provides parents with valuable insight into parent-child dynamics. Dr. Stuart Shanker, author of SELF-REG: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life, help families to empower children with the 3 R's of SELF-REG - recognize, reduce, and restore.

Empower Your Child with the 3 R's of SELF-REG- Recognize, Reduce, Restore

SELF-REG: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life

By Dr. Stuart Shanker

How would you define Self-Reg?

"Self-Reg is all about how we deal with stress. And there sure is a lot of it around today: in our own lives, and in our children’s. That is not to say that stress is a bad thing in and of itself. The fact is that development – psychological and emotional as well as physical and neural—is driven by stress. But the stress load has to be healthy. When it’s too great, growth is stalled and can even be a setback. So it’s essential that we learn how to manage stress – our own as much as our child’s—to keep it in the zone where growth isn’t just possible but is inevitable. To do this, we need to recognize when we and/or our child are becoming over-stressed; why; and most important of all, what to do about it. Only in this way can we render parenting a rich growth experience—for the both of us!

In many ways stress is like a cold virus, forever mutating, waxing and waning. The point is that parents have to deal with new and different stresses at every stage of their child’s life and their own. What parents urgently need is a guide that helps them recognize the signs of excessive stress, which change from one age to the next, sometimes from one moment to the next; helps them identify the varying stresses they’ll encounter at different stages in their child’s life and their own; provides techniques for reducing stress that are relevant for child and parent alike; explains how to develop “stress awareness,” again in child and parent alike; and finally, helps parents figure out self-regulating strategies that work. Self-Reg is that guide."

What was your goal in writing Self-Reg?

"I’ve seen so many children and youth whose life was turned around as soon as they started to do Self-Reg, but there was one child in particular, whose story I briefly tell at the beginning of Self-Reg, which told me that I HAD to write this book.

My hope is that the book will enable readers to understand that they are over-stressed, why, and what they can do to manage their or their child’s stress load in order to recover their own or their child’s joy of life."

What do you mean by “hidden stressors”?

"My own training in self-regulation was grounded in the incredible work that people like Stanley Greenspan, Georgi DeGangi and Steven Porges were doing in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They were looking at stress in premature babies in neonatal intensive care units, and the effects on their physical well-being when the stressors (e.g., noise, light, temperature) were reduced. So they were looking at “stress” in the classical sense first defined by physiologist Walter Cannon: a “stressor” is something that requires the release of energy in order to keep some internal system running smoothly.

Stress has become such a buzz-word in our culture, and invariably we think of stress in terms of the kinds of pressures we’re under, the stress of a job, money, a difficult relationship, not having enough hours in the day to get everything done. These certainly are significant stresses. But there are so many more kinds of stresses that we deal with in life: physical and cognitive as well as social and emotional.

When we look for “hidden stressors,” we are interested in all those things that cause us to burn energy to keep our “internal systems” – mental as well as physical – running smoothly. Something causing us to burn energy without our even knowing it. What is really extraordinary is how someone might be doing something that they actually regard as “relaxing” when it’s having the exact opposite effect: is leaving them much more spent and tense than when they started."

Very frequently sources have quoted you as passionately stating, “There are no bad kids.” How will SELF-REG present this concept to parents, educators, and caregivers in an effort to redefine how behavior is interpreted and addressed?

"I’ve lost track of how many children I’ve seen in my work across Canada, the United States, and around the world. Not just thousands, but easily tens of thousands. And in all those children, I have never seen a bad kid.

Kids can be selfish, insensitive, and even spiteful. They can refuse to pay attention, be quick to shout or push, or be disobedient or downright hostile. The list goes on and on. I know—I’m a father myself. But a bad kid? Never.

The problematic behavior we are witnessing in children are expressions of a child’s inability in the moment to respond to everything going on in and around him—sounds, noise, distractions, discomforts, emotions. Yet we react as if these are problems with a child’s character or temperament. Worse yet, children come to believe it.

There isn’t a single child who, with understanding and patience, can’t be guided along a trajectory that leads to a meaningful life. But stereotypes of “the difficult child” color our views, as do our own hopes, dreams, frustrations and fears as parents. Don’t get me wrong: some children can be a lot more challenging than others. But often our negative judgments of a child are just a defense mechanism, a way of shifting the blame for the trouble we’re having on to the child’s “nature.” This can make a child more reactive, defensive, defiant, anxious, or withdrawn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It never has to be that way."

What are your hopes for parents and families, educators, therapists and other healthcare providers reading SELF-REG?

"I suppose the short answer to this critical question is: make their job easier, more rewarding, and much less of a strain.And of course for children: to help them discover their own sense of calm, so they can be comfortable in their own skin, enjoy learning and life, and feel better prepared for the bumps and challenges along the way. By experiencing the enlightenment of knowing when we are over-stressed, why, and how to reduce our stress-load, we start to feel lighter."

What’s the one piece of advice you hope readers will take away from this book?

"To think beyond buckle down and try harder. We hear that all the time. We say it to ourselves. We’re told we should have more willpower, more self-control over what we eat, or drink, or say. We are drawn to the idea of willpower as the secret to achievement. But not only does concentrating on willpower do little to help us battle our demons, it can actually have the opposite effect; for the harder we push for self-control the harder it can become. We need to focus instead on how to enhance our, or our child’s ability to self-regulate.

Self-regulation completely changes what we think, feel, see, and do, and every bit as important, what we don’t think, feel, see and do! Rather than berating ourselves for a lack of self-control, or constantly exhorting our child to “make a greater effort,” we need to recognize why we have an overpowering craving, or why our child gives up at the slightest hurdle. That’s what self-regulation ultimately teaches us: that the secret to a successful and satisfying life lies, not in somehow “strengthening” our willpower, but in reducing the intensity of the impulse, the urgency of the urge."

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