Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Consumer Critique: Stress-Free Discipline

Disclosure: I received complimentary products to facilitate this post. All opinions are my own. 

Parenting brings with it a lot of stress - particularly when it comes to discipline. Dealing with tantrums, kids talking back, stubbornness, and more can be particularly stressful - and not all tactics work for everyone.

In the book Stress-Free Discipline, authors Sara Au, a mom and journalist, and Peter L. Stavinoha, Ph.D., a dad and pediatric neuropsychologist, help understand why kids behave badly, and how discipline can be applied, consistently and calmly, to not only alleviate stressful behavioral issues, but also to cultivate a positive parent-child relationship.  

The book takes the view that behavior - even negative behavior - is a form of communication, and that as parents, we need to use discipline to educate our children. The methods proposed in the book are flexible, so they can be adapted to a variety of parenting situations, and the book helps explain why kids act the way they do, which can reduce some of the stress in dealing with it.

I had a chance to interview the Sara Au to learn more.

    •    Why did you decide to write this book?

A: Oh boy, as a parent, I am constantly second-guessing myself and the decisions that my husband and I make. I started writing books for parents after multiple experiences of reading or hearing parenting advice that seemed miraculous, only to fail when I tried to implement it with my children. I felt so incompetent, or that my kids were just so horrible that they defied all tactics. And, of course, that is a ridiculous feeling, but it’s real for too many of us parents.

So, when I started working with Dr. Pete Stavinoha, who’s a pediatric neuropsychologist, we began with the philosophy of empowering parents to understand the way their child’s brain functions and the reasons why a particular parenting tactic works or doesn’t work. From there, a parent can take what we are explaining and apply it to their individual child in whatever specific situation they find themselves. We know there’s no single correct way to discipline or teach a child, and so we help parents figure out which way will resonate best with their child. In my household, it’s really been revolutionary!

    •    What sets it apart from other parenting books?

A: There are many aspects of Stress-Free Discipline that set it apart from others. First, we are an author team made up of a psychologist/dad and a writer/mom who combine the expertise of brain science and real-world applications in the home, offering readers the one-two punch of not only "how" to do something, but also "why" it can work, which is not found anywhere else.

We don’t offer a one-size-fits-all mentality. Rather, we teach parents the basics of child behavior, offering up 16 Universal Strategies that run the gamut from positive parenting to negative consequences and then we explain how and when to best implement these strategies. Readers come away with a toolbox of parenting tactics that they understand, and can pull out for use as a particular situation warrants.

We’re turning the entire concept of discipline on its end in our book. Discipline is about education, it's about shaping a child's behavior into the kinds of positive behaviors that are valued by the parent. Punishment is just one form of discipline, and can be an effective one, but is by no means the only, or even the best, method for getting a child to behave in a certain way. We advocate an attentive, positive parenting approach, but do not offer up a "Pollyanna" picture of parenting. In fact, yelling and punishments are absolutely part of our 16 Universal Strategies, however we explain how these will be most effectively used by a parent in shaping a child's behavior.

Within the pages of Stress-Free Discipline are reflective activities for parents to complete, which lead them toward applying what they've learned to their own child and their own lives. These short, interactive exercises enhance the concepts presented, and allow for that personalized approach that every parent needs in dealing with the child and the circumstances in which they find themselves on any given day.  

    •    What are some things that contribute to parental stress today?

A: What doesn’t?!?! Really, today, we parents are busier than ever between work, kids’ activities and trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Also, there are more influences bombarding our children from all directions today, especially from social and traditional media. The breakneck speed of life is, in my opinion, one of the biggest contributors of stress.

But you know, every generation has always felt that life is busier than ever and kids are exposed to so much more than ever before. Being able to slow down a bit, take measure of a situation or a problem, and then put some thought into how to react that will benefit your children and family, is crucial. When parents are mindful about their actions and reactions, their parenting improves.

Another thing that adds to stress is the unrealistic expectation we put on ourselves to be perfect parents. The truth is, there’s no such thing. Despite being parenting authors, neither Dr. Pete nor I are perfect (although Dr. Pete sure is closer than I am to it)! We all make mistakes; we all get it dead wrong sometimes. But recognizing a mistake and knowing how to move forward from it is very important, not only for your parenting tactics but also in order to be a good role model for your child.

    •    How does parental stress affect kids and family dynamics?

Frustration is a human emotion, and if not dealt with, it can cause stress and wreak havoc on a parent-child relationship. Daily stresses can add up and explode. Our book, Stress-Free Discipline, examines five of the most common stressors on parents and children: tantrums, homework, mealtime, bedtime and attitude.

At other times in our lives, there are special circumstances that put more stress on our families, among which are moving, a new baby, separation or divorce, long distance parenting, illness or death, and when we have financial problems. Situations like these can feel like we’re caught in a tornado. During these times, our coping mechanisms, and consequently our parenting skills, may need a boost—or a break. It’s only natural: The human mind and body can take only so much stress before maximum capacity is reached, at which point we start to shut down or collapse.

Recognizing the symptoms of stress and then identifying the stressor is extremely important. Remember that children often express emotion through their behavior. A change in behavior is most often a key indicator of stress, and it should cause you to examine what’s going on with your child to create this change. The very fact that a situation is unfamiliar or new, even if it’s positive, can create anxiety and stress in your child. Sometimes this stems from an uncertainty as to what’s going to happen. The reasons for your child’s anxiety may feel irrational to you, but only when you find out what’s going through their mind can you help them cope with the situation more capably.

In Stress-Free Discipline, we take parents through the symptoms of stress to look out for, and offer tips on how to effectively handle that stress, both for themselves and for their child.

Peter L. Stavinoha, PH.D., is a dad and directs the pediatric neuropsychology service at the Center for Pediatric Psychiatry at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, and is also a Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He lives in Dallas, TX.

Sara Au is a mother of two and a parenting expert with over 10 years of experience in motherhood, parenting and family topics. She has written for ePregancy Magazine and Co-Hosted The Real Parenting Show podcast. She lives in Orlando, FL.

Together, Sara and Dr. Pete are the authors of Stress-Free Discipline and the previously released book Stress-Free Potty Training.   More info is available at www.stressfreeparent.com.

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