Self Reg: A book recommendation

Book Recommendation: Self-Reg by Dr. Stuart Shanker

Last year around this time, I was at the peak of frustration and under a lot of stress, trying desperately to understand why my 7-year old son was struggling so much socially/emotionally mainly in school and in social settings. Without having any formal diagnosis at the time, I asked myself,

“What can I do to help him? What do I need to understand?”

It seemed like I was on my own to figure things out, and like so many of us on this journey, I stumbled across a book quite by accident in the parenting section of my local bookstore, although I don’t believe in accidents!

It has this bright blue spine that caught my eye with bolded words, “Self-Reg,” it hit me like a jolt. I automatically recognized the term “self-reg” as part of the word self-regulation. This was mentioned a lot in the literature I’d previously read on “behaviourally challenging children. I understood right there and then that I was picking up something that could further my understanding of this concept.

Here I am scooping it off the shelf, and I read the cover:
“Self-Reg – How to Help Your Child (And You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life”

As I said, I don’t believe in coincidences or accidents, this book was presented to me at the right time and place, exactly when I was ready to receive it.

I purchased the book and dove right in! I knew from just the introduction that the knowledge and wisdom in this book resonated, and once I was finished I needed to share with others. Especially to parents in the Autism community which I was a part of.

I put together a Workshop based on the compelling elements of Dr. Shanker’s book, and despite having a small group of attendees, they were an extremely open group. I had no doubt that when the workshop was finished, they would have their eyes re-opened to their children and themselves!

Because this book has done so much for me, this is my attempt to give you a brief summary of the essential points.

Most notably, in the first chapter of the book (page 2), a paragraph jumped out at me, so it is worth sharing here:

“There isn’t a single child who, with understanding and patience, can’t be guided along a trajectory that leads to a rich and meaningful life. But stereotypes of the “difficult child” colour 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 judgements of a child are just a defence mechanism, a way of shifting the blame for the trouble we’re having onto 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.”

Dr. Shanker- Self-Reg – How to Help Your Child (And You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life

If those words resonate with you in any way, then you know deep inside you that they’re right, and now it is up to you to find a different way of looking at your child. Dr. Shanker’s methods are an invitation to all of us to begin where we are right here and now.

Firstly, the book educates us on the brain and the nervous system’s functions. At some point, we all need a crash course on Neuroscience to help us understand how our brain and nervous system function, and this book presents the information in a very easy-to-understand way.

We need to know this information because it allows us to understand better what is happening in our children’s brains and bodies (as well as our own) when they have a stress response. It explains further that a prolonged state of heightened arousal

“makes the limbic alarm so sensitive to stress that it takes very little to set it off. Perception itself changes as the system becomes primed to look for threats, even where they are nonexistent.”

Dr. Shanker- Self-Reg – How to Help Your Child (And You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life

So many of us fail to recognize that many of our “behaviourally challenging” kids are very reactive for this very reason.

Secondly, the book reminds us that parents are “Nature’s Appointed Partners in the Self-Reg Process.” What this means is, we as parents have an obligation to practice Self-Reg with ourselves as much as our children. Absolutely we do! I believe our children are mirrors to ourselves in many ways, and we must first learn to understand ourselves better and make the commitment to do better once we know better.

So, what are the concepts of Self-Reg as described in the book?

There are 5 Core concepts to Transforming Behaviour, and they are the following:

  • Identify the stressors
  • Read the signs and reframe the behaviour
  • Reduce the stress.
  • Reflect. Become aware of when you’re overstressed
  • Respond. Figure out what helps you calm, rest, and recover.

The book says each of the five steps is something you can learn to do routinely for yourself in the moment. They really will become second nature, I have a sign that I posted for myself at the beginning of my learning as a reminder until it sunk in.

Chapter 4 introduces the reader to the “Five-Domain Model for Self-Regulation,” which identifies the different categories/domains that stressors fall under. All 5 domains influence one another and create a sophisticated yet seamless, integrated web.

In Shanker Self-Reg® they are:

  • biological
  • emotion
  • cognitive
  • social
  • prosocial

These are described in more detail throughout the remainder of the book. If you want further examples of stressors in the 5 domains, I encourage you to visit Dr. Shanker’s website: self-reg.ca under the Resources Section, there is a sub-heading called, “Self-Reg Toolkit“.

There you will find Example Stressors in the 5 domains. I encourage you to download the sheets and examine each list for yourself. You will probably start to recognize some stressors in yourself and your child across more than one category. By reading through the list, it gives you a starting point of exploration which will lead to greater awareness, I assure you!

If you have teens or pre-teens, Chapter 10 is worth reading, as it explores the “power and perils of adolescence,” you can begin to explore the 5 Domains of Self-Reg with them, then be able to give them the tools and step back to allow them to use these tools without parental interference.

Chapter 12 “Parents Under Pressure” is my favourite chapter! Dr. Shanker so very kindly reminds us to forgive ourselves as parents and to shift from the “blame-and-shame paradigm” that so many of us have been imprinted with. I recognized this so profoundly that we must shift the paradigm away from shame and blame to forgive and elevate.

Everything we do for our children regarding compassion, understanding, forgiveness, should be applied to ourselves too. It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s so important to apologize to our children when we’ve not been our best selves, or when we’ve been in the wrong. It is also critically important to demonstrate to them how we handle the stresses of everyday life, but I think most importantly to model for them what to do when we inevitably “mess up.”

Thank you, Dr. Shanker and the Mehrit Centre for all that you are doing to educate and enlighten parents, and your “laying of the foundation for a paradigm revolution built around the science of self-regulation.”
Parents who are looking for a PROCESS, not a PROGRAM, I urge you to take advantage of all the free resources on the Self-Reg website.

Megan J law, xox

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