My Personal Faves Among the Masses of Parenting Books

When our mothers raised us, there was only one book on parenting: Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. My Mom said she didn’t even read it. :)

Parenting wasn’t even a word.

Now, there are countless volumes on how to feed, toilet train, talk to and otherwise raise our kids from womb to adulthood. There is, simply, too much information, and we can’t read it all.

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I certainly haven’t read it all, but I have a few favourites that have saved my sanity. Without them I would probably be screaming at my kids all day. 

So, I’m going to share my favourite parenting books, and I hope some of you will do the same in the comments at the end (selfishly asking of course).

Each of these books focuses on understanding your child’s developing brain, normalizing all that crazy-making behaviour, and giving parents a way to respond to those behaviours in the most compassionate, productive way possible.

The Whole-Brain Child

This is one of those books that makes you say, “Ohhhhh….” Oops.

Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson wrote this to help us understand the meltdowns – those illogical moments when our kids seem to make mountains out of mole hills.

It helps us make sense of the chaos - those times when we’re thinking (or saying) “Would you just calm down?!” (I remember hearing myself one stressful, rushed morning actually say to my 5-year-old, “It’s not a big deal!” To which she screamed right back, “It IS a BIG DEAL!” Right.)

The authors explain, in simple language, what’s actually happening in a child’s brain in those moments and what they really need from us, despite what it looks like. It is truly incredible when you have this knowledge, and instead of getting angry and trying to discipline in the middle of a tantrum, you just kneel down and hold your arms open, and your child (who five seconds ago was screaming ‘I hate you!’) runs right into them for comfort in the midst of the emotional storm.

Parenting the Strong-Willed Child

This book, by Rex Forehand and Nicholas Long, outlines a five-week, clinically proven program – a specific method of interacting with your child – that can help prevent or seriously tone down the back-talking, tantrums and other difficult behaviours.

And it works like a flippin’ magic wand, no kidding. It is so effective at teaching parents how to help their child feel acknowledged, noticed and appreciated (so there is less reason for them to act out in the first place) that I give a Cole’s Notes version (no pun intended) to every family I work with that has a toddler or older child.

I once recommended my short version of this strategy to parents whose little boy had “broken up with his Dad” – he was all Mommy, all the time (including the middle of the night).  Within a week or two of his Dad using it, the little boy was skipping out the door with him for café dates and park trips, cheerily waving “Bye Mom!” 

The program is truly incredible for kids aged 2.5–6; it focuses on boosting a positive sense of self in your child, so even if you’re not particularly struggling, it’s worth learning. It changed my life when I read it, and using the technique is now a habit. 

Raising Your Spirited Child

The subtitle on this book is “a guide for parents whose child is more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent and energetic”.

Just even understanding that there’s a normal range of children’s temperaments can help you breathe a sigh of relief and stop wishing your child would magically (or forcibly) change into one of those docile, easy-going kids.

This book can help you understand your child, rather than assuming they’re “difficult” or coming off the rails. Spirited kids’ brains are wired differently, and they need different kinds of communication and awareness from us as parents. The author, Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, explains it all, and gives you strategies for handling every situation in a way that helps your child feel appreciated for who they are.

I love this book because it helped me realize that spirited kids are a gift. I always say to parents at my sleep seminars that these are the cool kids, the super-fun kids. (I’m developing a bit of a theory that spirited natures first show themselves in difficulty settling to sleep….)

The ideas in this book help us learn how to positively respond to our spirited kids’ sometimes over-the-top natures. And it’s our (rather challenging) job to help them shine and not be bowled over by their emotions or shut down by a parent who wishes they were anything other than their perfect little selves, with all their wildness and exuberance.

Next on My List:

Hold On to Your Kids – Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers

Gordon Neufeld is a giant in the child-development / attachment-theory world; he wrote this book with Gabor Maté as a guide for keeping kids grounded despite a phenomenon he calls “peer orientation” – when kids look to their peers for direction and a sense of right and wrong, rather than their parents.

I bought this book when my first child was an infant, because I knew I would need it one day. Parenting in the digital age scares me. It’s on my ‘to-read’ list now because my first child has just started school, and I can already see the potential for this phenomenon taking over.

And finally, here’s one I sheepishly haven’t finished:

Mindful Parent, Happy Child

by Pilar M. Placone

If you can’t get through an entire book on mindfulness, you probably need to read 10. :)

The crux of this one (so far) is that when we’re locked in battle with our kids, or frustrated with our two-year-old, it’s we who are being triggered, and not necessarily our kids who are so out-of-line (usually, they’re just being kids). This is the whole basis for seeing our children as our teachers, our vehicles for becoming better versions of ourselves. There’s just no substitute for knowing our own triggers when it comes to living a sane life.

Let this be my written commitment to dust that one off.