Practical advice for parents


There’s a new helpful guide to parenting in an unstable world, writes Sharyn Kolieb.

The authors of Grounded: Dr Michael C Nagel with Dr Shelley Davidow.
The authors of Grounded: Dr Michael C Nagel with Dr Shelley Davidow.

How can we raise kids that are not only academically successful but also resilient, happy and healthy amid the challenges of the modern world? That is a question tackled by Dr Shelley Davidow and Dr Michael C Nagel who have written Grounded to offer a ‘tool kit’ of practical advice for parents. Rooted in neuroscience, psychology and education, the book provides a roadmap in a parents’ journey to foster optimal cognitive, emotional and physiological growth for their children from infancy to adolescence, while also focusing on the key message that a parent’s wellbeing is integral to effectively supporting their children.

The AJN spoke with co-author Dr Davidow, originally from South Africa who is a senior lecturer in education at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, and an author of more than 50 books including her newly-released novel The Girl With the Violin about a Jewish Australian violinist who wins a scholarship to Berlin in 1989, which she will be discussing at the Sydney Jewish Museum on July 14.

Asked why it is called Grounded, Dr Davidow said, “It is about feeling stable, even if it looks like the earth is shifting.”

Discussing the inspiration behind Grounded she commented, “After writing a previous parenting book called Raising Stress-Proof Kids, parents came to me and said, ‘The kids are fine! Where is the book for us? We are stressed and we have to manage that.”

This led the authors to create a book that would give parents the tools they need for parenting in the modern world.

“We wanted the book to be like a knowledgeable friend. The first step for parents if you’re looking after kids is you need to have your own oxygen mask before you help others. It’s about getting your own nervous system into a state of balance,” she said.

Dr Davidow notes that while we can’t avoid stress, there are ways we can reduce stress and improve the way we respond to it.

“Your first instrument over which you have control of as a parent is your nervous system … When you are in a state of stress – fight or flight – it’s a great response if you’re running away from a lion and you’re trying to get out of danger, but it’s meant to be for the short term. The stress hormones are mobilised and blood goes away from your head to mobilise your limbs – that’s the sympathetic nervous system in action,” she said.

“When you do finally escape the danger, your brain is flooded with endorphins and then your breathing goes back to normal, and you’re not secreting cortisol anymore – that’s the parasympathetic nervous system. It is like the accelerator and the brake [together] that is the autonomic nervous system. They make up these two branches and are connected through the heart.

“Every single thing you feel throughout the day is either engaging a fight or flight response or a relaxed response … What happens these days is we get into chronic fight or flight. And if you think about that as an accelerator being in a car, you can’t do that. It’s going to run out of gas at some point.”

To promote balance of the nervous system Dr Davidow recommends the ‘quick coherence technique’ from the HeartMath Institute in California. Explaining the technique she said, “You focus on your heart and then start breathing in and out a little bit slower and deeper than usual and try to experience a feeling of sincere love or gratitude for something or someone.

“Breathe in that love or gratitude and imagine that person/child/partner that makes you feel pure love and then you start to feel it in your heart. Breathe in, breathe out.”

Dr Davidow said that practising this technique each day for a few minutes, as well as in moments of stress, encourages your body to be in its optimum state – called high coherence – as it kicks your nervous system back into balance.

She believes this also is a technique that can be taught to children to help them cope with stress.

“When you’re in that optimum state, you can process information. You can manage the test that’s in front of you, you can manage the child that is having a complete meltdown,” she said.

Grounded also focuses on restorative practices regarding how to create balance again in the family following conflict.

Explaining ‘restorative practices, she said, “It has three main sections. One is we ask what happened? We ask who’s been hurt, and how? And we ask, what do we need to do to fix this? And everyone who’s part of the problem is part of the solution … It is all about reducing stress and anxiety and making our relationships loving and honest and for people to feel safe.”

On her key message to parents, “You are the best person to help your children build resilience and adaptive mechanisms to buffer anxiety and stress. It’s putting the power back in parents’ hands and saying you’re it, children take their cues from you. And you can just be that loving, trusting, amazing, beautiful mum or dad that you want to be and that’s going to go a very long way to giving them what they need.”

Grounded by Dr Michael C Nagel and Dr Shelley Davidow is published by Amba Press

read more: