“It’s part of our job description as parents to remain reasonable—to have access to a rational adult brain—when our kids start falling apart,” writes Dr. Martha Straus in her latest publication. But, she says, “It’s a job that appears to take a lifetime of practice to get better at.” That’s precisely why Straus, a Professor in the PsyD in Clinical Psychology program at Antioch New England, has written Cool, Calm, & Connected: A Workbook for Parents and Children to Co-Regulate, Manage Big Emotions, and Build Stronger Bonds.
This compassionate book, published by PESI Inc, is Straus’s seventh book. In it, she works to give parents practice strategies that can help a parent to “become more effective at staying cool, calm, and connected with your reactive and distressed child—even when that seems like a mighty challenge.” The workbook is designed to support both parents and children to stay loving and “on the same team” when discouragement, irritation, and argument are pulling families apart. The book’s worksheets, activities, and explanations require thoughtful practice, but they pay off by helping families manage conflict more intentionally. For parents, the book presents ways to stay centered, with an open and full heart, supporting the child in need, all while maintaining alertness in the rational brain.
Straus is enthusiastic to be bringing this new project into the world. She says that the new book “is based on the simple premise that kids learn how to self-soothe only if they first have plenty of experience feeling regulated with the supportive engagement of a caring adult. They can’t calm down unless we show them how it’s done and practice with them—a lot. And even then, after they have lots of strategies and skills, they will still need adult comfort when life feels too hard.” The book aims to build those skills and strategies, while also cultivating this supportive mindset.
Useful Lessons for Humans of Any Age
Of course, children aren’t the only ones who experience what Straus describes as “times when our strategies for calming down are insufficient to manage overwhelming feelings. Moments when our fear, disappointment, anger, and sorrow are more than we can bear.” Everybody needs to cultivate strategies to get better at self-regulating—but also to find communities of support. In moments of emotional distress, says Straus, “there is nothing like having someone who loves us nearby saying, ‘I am here; you are not alone.’ We evolved to seek the comfort of others when we are distressed. It’s not just something for children—though they need it much more than most adults understand.”
This insight has led Straus to advocate for parents and people more generally to emphasize co-regulation—helping each other to maintain emotional equilibrium—rather than the more commonly emphasized self-regulation. “Our culture places tremendous emphasis on teaching self-regulation,” she explains. “Parents are instructed to banish kids to their room to calm down (often because the adults are also falling apart); therapists work diligently to teach strategies for children and teens to manage their strong emotions more effectively on their own.” By contrast, her workbook emphasizes co-regulation. Straus says that it has benefits for both “healthy development and stronger parent-child relationships.”
The workbook offers dozens of strategies to help caregivers first to take charge of their own powerful reactivity and then to offer their calm, adult, thinking brain to help their child feel safe and secure. This involves building a safe and supportive community as well as exercises that encourage breathing, grounding, and playing—together. Straus developed this workbook over several years with the help of two research assistants: Brooklyn Alvarez and Dana Ludmer. Says Straus, “Their creativity and thoughtful engagement made this project both fun and successful.”
Meeting Need in the World
Cool, Calm, & Connected is already finding readers who are excited about its lessons. One early fan of the book, Margaret Wehrenberg, who herself has written several books on anxiety management, says “What I find amazing is how simple Martha Straus makes it to become cool, calm, and connected…Whether your child or teen challenges you with outbursts of anger, intense anxiety, or sullen silences, here is the path to help them regulate those states while maintaining your own calm.”
This book isn’t the only way that Straus attempts to bring necessary change to the wider world. She has written six previous books, including Treating Trauma in Adolescents and Adolescent Girls in Crisis. This is in addition to many journal articles and workshops she has presented, in the US and internationally, on child and family trauma, development, and therapy.
All of this work has prepared her to write this book on an important and timely subject. Ultimately, Straus thinks that parents and children can succeed in supporting each other. “Parenting a challenging kid is a lot like driving on wintery roads,” she says. “But with some skills and effort, you can learn how to keep steady and remain calm while turning toward, not away from, the struggle ahead.”