When instincts fail, a book may help

Of all the degrees that can be earned, of all the apprenticeships that can be entered, the one calling in life most people learn “on the job” is parenting.

“Parenting is a skill,” said Susan Bauerfeld Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Wilton. Many people rely on instinct, “but natural instincts don’t do it,” she added during a conversation last week with The Bulletin.

To help parents improve their skill set, Dr. Bauerfeld has been offering a parenting book discussion series at Wilton Library. The next meeting will be Tuesday, Jan. 7, from 10:30 to noon, when she addresses The Parent App: Understanding Families in the Digital Age by Lynn Schofield Clark. Dr. Bauerfeld will give an overview of the book, so reading it beforehand is not required. Registration is requested, however, to help library staff determine which room to reserve. Walk-ins are welcome, though. Register online at wiltonlibrary.org or call 203-762-3950, ext. 213.

Dr. Bauerfeld chose to talk about media because “it’s coming at us so fast, we’re still learning as the kids are picking it up.” Parents often find themselves “behind the eight ball” as a result.

“Here’s the dynamic. Parents get afraid. They see this as a threat. They go into survival mode, which is to clamp down and restrict access, which doesn’t work,” she said. “Kids need to know how to use these things. They need to learn how to regulate their use.” Cell phones and apps and the Internet are not going away. “It’s here to stay.”

Dr. Bauerfeld heard the author speak on NPR and agreed with her ultimate conclusion. “No matter how you decide to negotiate around media, you have to negotiate. Doing it from a connected, respectful place is how it works best.”

The author researched families and issues that arose among those of different economic circumstances.

“She points out you have to think about what your ultimate end goals are with the media,” Dr. Bauerfeld said, adding that she will fill in what the book lacks in how-to, although it does offer a sample contract for parents and children. “The book is a way to get people thinking about media in ways they may not have thought about it before.”

Dr. Bauerfeld began the book discussions in 2011, partly as a way to get her name known as she was starting her practice, and partly as a community service. In her practice she offers parent skills training and coaching, and ADHD coaching and psychotherapy for adults. She got to talking with a friend on the Wilton Youth Council, which is a co-sponsor of the series, and decided she wanted to do something on parenting. She has lived in Wilton since 1996 and has been on the library board. Previous and upcoming titles may be found at http://susanbauerfeld.com/book-talks/.

She is the mother of three young men — her oldest son graduated from Wilton High School in 2009. She also has a 19-year-old at college and a 16-year-old at Wilton High.

Previously, Dr. Bauerfeld discussed a book that touched on a common challenge in Wilton: The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids, by Madeline Levine.

Here, Dr. Bauerfeld said, “one of the biggest challenges is the excessive demands for performance these kids are put under and how parents feel it personally. It’s exceedingly stressful.” In her practice she helps people manage stress associated with performance demands.

“A lot of kids get in trouble because they are not able to meet expectations,” she said. “Or their parents are absent or have issues of their own and can’t help them.”

The next book, which she will talk about on March 4, is No: Why Kids — of All Ages — Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It by David Walsh.

“It’s essentially about setting limits for children. They need limits, they need structure and they count on their parents for that,” she said. The book also looks at what happens when there are no limits. “Kids need Mom and Dad to be in control.”

Dr. Bauerfeld’s favorite parenting book of all time is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The authors based their book on the work of Chaim Ginott, who wrote Between Parent and Child, another book high on her list.

Asked if she wanted to offer a word of advice, Dr. Bauerfeld said she is “a firm believer in kids doing well if they can. If not, there’s a ‘can’t’ that’s not being acknowledged.”

Whatever the situation, she added, “look at your child the way your dog looks at you when they greet you. Just love them.”