Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life (Book Review)

Title: Self-Reg
Author: Dr. Stuart Shanker
Publication Date: 2016 (book), 2016 (audio)
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Narrated By: Robert Fass
Recording time: 9 hours, 2 minutes

Publisher’s Summary

The first parenting book to bring the science and psychology of children’s behavior together to build brain/body awareness for self-regulation and success.

Self-Reg is a groundbreaking book that presents an entirely new understanding of your child’s emotions and behavior and serves as a practical guide for parents to help their kids engage calmly and successfully in learning and life. Rooted in decades of clinical practice and research by leading child psychologist Dr. Stuart Shanker, Self-Reg realigns the power of the parent-child relationship for positive change.

Self-regulation is the nervous system’s way of responding to stress. We are seeing a generation of children and teens with excessively high levels of stress and, as a result, an explosion of emotional, social, learning, behavior, and physical health problems. But few parents recognize the hidden stressors that their children are struggling with physiologically as well as socially and emotionally. An entrenched view of childrearing is seeing our children as lacking self-control or willpower, but the real basis for these problems lies in excessive stress.

Self-regulation can dramatically improve a child’s mood, attention, and concentration. It can help children to feel empathy and to develop the sorts of virtues that every parent knows are vital for their child’s long-term well-being. Self-regulation brings about profound and lasting transformation that continues to mature throughout life.

Shanker translates decades of his findings from working with children into practical, prescriptive advice for parents, giving them concrete ways to develop their self-regulation skills and teach their children how to do the same for optimal learning, social, and emotional growth as well as for overall well-being.

THE REVIEW

Self-Reg is a must-read for anyone currently dealing with stress. The book is largely aimed at parents who are attempting to help their struggling children, but do not read that target audience as being exclusionary. The message of the book is just as useful for single adults living alone as it is for parents and/or their children.

The heart of the book centers on recasting the entrenched societal view of behavior modification through “self control.” Instead, Dr. Shanker presents behavior through the prism of stress, and the fight for better behavior as a battle with stressors of various types. The book makes the case that a calm person handles difficulties more effectively than an over-stimulated or over-stressed person. As a result, the book argues, it makes more sense to identify and self-regulate stress, than to expect an already over-taxed person to conjure up will power from thin air. This reframe seems obvious once presented, but as the book explains, we often miss the stress cues in our lives.

Dr. Shanker spends a lot of time diving into the brain science behind self-regulation, with a lot of detail given about the human anatomy’s responses to stimuli. He spends time discussing various modern – and not always intuitive or obvious – stressors. Best of all, for the reader, all of this is done while presenting a number of relatable case study anecdotes from former patients. The book is easy to read, easy to understand, and (I think) it provides its readers the tools to start application of the lessons within it right away.

Personally, I did some self-examination while reading and have begun looking for physiological cues from my body, to indicate stress, when I find myself feeling irritable or uncomfortable. I have already deduced that I am sensitive to sound in a way that I had not realized (I cannot handle excessive volume, or too much speed of audio narration – but only in certain circumstances.) Now, instead of coping with that stress in an unhealthy way, I can simply deal with the heretofore invisible source of stress and through that, the irritability. I suspect that most readers will find at least a few things that incite a stress reaction, in their own lives, that they never adequately recognized as a stressor before.

If you ascribe to certain parenting schools of thought (“peaceful parenting,” “playful parenting,” “respectful parenting,” etc.) then you will find that this book likely provides a lot of the science that explains the success of those approaches. If you grew up with parents who utilized the opposite of those approaches, the book will show you that, too. In addition, Self-Reg rejects the notion of a one-size-fits-all relationship plan for one’s children (or any type of relationship with another person.) Everyone is different, with different needs, and therefore everyone requires an individual approach.

I read this book thinking of myself, but I also read it thinking of other people who might benefit from it. Self-Reg is a short read with a lot of science and experience backed advice. I fully recommend with the hope that anyone who reads spends some time putting thought into their own sources of stress, because the impact of that influences emotional health, relationships, and physical well-being.