Many people ask me what parenting books I recommend, so I thought I’d write a post summarizing the books I like and why I like them. I have joked that parenting books are more a cause of frustration than a help (see Here and Here). But really, I do like to read parenting books and see what suggestions they can give. And I wouldn’t be as knowledgeable or parent in the way I do if I hadn’t kept reading parenting books and come across the ones that spoke to me.
The parenting book that caused me the most frustration was one of the first ones I read: BabyWise by Gary Ezzo. This is a popular book about sleep training for infants. I liked the idea of establishing a schedule, and I loved the idea of getting my baby to sleep through the night! But the author is so matter-of-fact, stating that if you follow his formula, your baby will nap and sleep through the night easily.
There are many parts of this book that I think are correct and helpful. I believe in the Eat-Awake-Sleep routine. I used it for all four of my babies, and they all slept through the night within the first few months. However, the author is very rigid about sticking to the scheduled eating and sleeping times. Any veteran parent knows this is not realistic, but I was seduced by his claims and felt betrayed when I didn’t get the same results. Now I know parents have to adjust and be flexible with the baby’s needs and wants and the changing events of each day (doctor’s appointments, outings, etc.). I wanted to do everything “right” though, and couldn’t help but be frustrated when my baby’s behavior didn’t seem to conform to his examples.
He talks about the nap cycle where the baby sleeps 45 minutes and then wakes, but can and will go back to sleep for another 45 minutes to an hour. In a general sense this is true; all my babies have exhibited this pattern and have learned to go back to sleep for the “second” portion of their nap. But day-to-day this was not always the case. When I had my first child and she wouldn’t go back to sleep, I let her cry for a while. But then I started scouring the book for the part about what if she doesn’t?! This was never addressed in the book. The author completely assumes the baby will do exactly what he predicts. As a new mother this left me terribly stressed! He really should have had a portion for what to do when the system doesn’t work!
Anyway, there are a few other books out there that recommend this Eat-Awake-Sleep cycle, and many of them are less rigid and more forgiving, letting parents know that it doesn’t always work perfectly. One I particularly liked is Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. The author, Tracy Hogg, writes about really getting to know your baby and watching her cues, which I think is important.
After my experience with BabyWise I read other parenting books with a little more skepticism. This is the only way to read them. Parenting books have to claim to have the magic answer in order to convince readers to buy them. But there is no magic answer, and most books simply have good ideas and some new insights (at best!). They can be helpful if you understand their limitations and don’t get frustrated when your children don’t respond exactly as they outlined.
The book that had the greatest impact on my parenting is Smart Love by Martha and William Pieper. I don’t even remember how I found it, but I’m so glad I did. This book literally changed my life. It was a big part of my transformation from an angry, continuously irritated parent into a patient, happy parent. A quote from the back cover describes the book perfectly:
“Get out of the discipline zone with smart love, a patient and caring approach to parenting. . . It replaces the old rewards-and-punishment style of parenting that turns parents into disciplinarians, which they don’t want to be, and treats children as miniature adults, which they aren’t.”
This book taught me appropriate expectations and changed my perspective on my role as a parent and my child’s needs. It teaches how to parent from a place of compassion and love, which was exactly what I was looking for.
As my children grew from infants and toddlers to preschoolers and school age, I read Parenting with Love and Logic. This famous book by Foster Cline and Jim Fay is a no-nonsense approach to teaching children responsibility. This book is a must-read for parents, full of practical principles and advice. These authors encourage parents to be compassionate and empathetic with their children while being firm in their rules and consequences.
About the same time I read The Power of Positive Parenting by Glenn Latham. It is a long and exhaustive book but very informative. He goes through many specific situations with step-by-step family conversations and instructions. The basic premise of the book is the quote I’ve used in other posts:
“Research has shown that the most effective way to reduce problem behavior in children is to strengthen desirable behavior through positive reinforcement rather than trying to weaken undesirable behavior using aversive or negative processes.”
Don’t get the idea that the whole book is written like that! That is just a quote from a different resource called the International Encyclopedia of Education. But he believes in that principle so much that he puts that quote at the end of every chapter! The first two chapters are very informative and interesting, and most of the rest of the book applies those principles to specific situations.
The Parenting Breakthrough is one of my all-time favorite parenting books. Merrilee Browne Boyack is an LDS author who has written a few different parenting and marriage books. She is down-to-earth and humorous with straightforward and sensible advice. The first half of the book focuses on teaching your kids to work, save money, and be independent. The second half is full of strategies for building family unity. I was already doing many of her suggestions, but she explained how and why they were so meaningful.
I highly recommend The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease’s influential book on how and why to read out loud to your children is convincing and inspiring. The second half of the book is a long list (he calls it a treasury) of books suggestions to read aloud to your children, sorted by type and level.
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman is a fascinating book about recent research on children’s growth and development. This book has been called the Freakonomics of parenting books. It goes through some fascinating new science about children that goes against conventional wisdom. They make child development research accessible and enjoyable to read. There are chapters on speech development, self-control, teen rebellion, siblings and many more topics. I loved it!
A dear friend of mine introduced me to the book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. It is another amazing book full of realistic wisdom much needed for modern parenting. The author, Wendy Mogel, is a clinical psychologist who has counseled families for many years. She saw patterns in their struggles, and she realized that many of their problems stemmed largely from overparenting and coddling. She is also Jewish and applies wisdom from important Jewish teachings to parenting. Even though this may not sound like the typical parenting book, the format works really well, and the book contains some great information and advice.
When your children reach the age of 9-12, you must read How to Hug a Porcupine by Julie Ross. It helps you navigate difficult tween behavior. You learn how to talk to your child about important issues, break the nagging cycle, treat your children with respect, and cultivate an increasingly mature relationship. Her approach is very compassionate and relationship-based, which I loved.
There are other parenting books I’ve read throughout the years, but these are my stand-out favorites. I hope you read and enjoy some or all of them!