When I run into a challenge my instinct is often to go to the library and check out all the books on the subject and skim through them looking for useful advice on the subject. Parenting, as anyone who has ever done it will (I assume) tell you, is most definitely a challenge. And so I have read a LOT of parenting books. Several were merely boring. A few I actively detested (Sorry, all you people who love BabyWise.) But there were a few that I genuinely loved. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you today.
Why I like these books (and not some of the others)
Before I get into the books, though, I’d like to explain why I liked these books and didn’t like the others.
First, I’ve personally had zero success with any corporal punishment based systems of child discipline. (Doctor Dobson’s books aren’t on this list) I know lots of parents seem to get great results that way, but it doesn’t work with my kids. I also have problems with the idea of teaching my children by example that when people upset us we hit them. It’s very hard for me to see how a system of physical discipline can avoid this philosophical pitfall.
Secondly, my goal in raising children is to help them become confident, adaptable, and free adults. Any system that treats children as Pavlovian dogs, or tries to apply the methods of horse or dog training to the education and development of children seems deeply flawed to me. I don’t want to raise compliant robots, or well-trained dogs, but interesting and adaptable people who will ask questions, take initiative, and try new things—but who will also hold fast to a few vital principles, and feel secure enough to take calculated risks and form their own strong relationships as adults. Therefore I want my discipline system to leave a lot of room for choice and initiative at every stage of development
Lastly, children have free will and intellects and should be treated as if they do. I understand that humans are animals too, and that there is some overlap in methodology, but I want methods that emphasize and respect the humanity of the child to be raised. Therefore, I want every discipline strategy to both produce the desired behavioral result, and model a virtuous reaction.
These books are all easy to read, treat both children and parents with respect, and seem to have a pretty balanced idea of what children are, and are not, capable of.
Bringing up Bebe
I think I’ve mentioned this one here before. Pamela Druckerman is an American woman who moved to France and had a kid. She tells a lot of hilarious stories (some adult humor) about raising an American child in France. This book is especially useful for its ideas on how to deal with clingy children and picky eaters. It helped me have a lot more fun with parenting, mainly just by encouraging me to micromanage my children less.
As a result of reading this book, I now let my children play on playground equipment without hovering. And you know what? I love being able to relax at the park, and they love being allowed to do their thing. And if I leave them alone and do my own thing, it turns out they are surprisingly good at calculating risk, even as young as 18 months.
Hunt, Gather, Parent
A journalist had a baby…. And then didn’t know what to do with the screaming toddler it grew into. So, she put her journalist hat back on and decided to interview some behavioral scientists and investigate what certain other cultures do with their difficult young offspring.
What I loved about this book is that it’s got three different threads, that the author braids together into a compelling and enjoyable narrative. Firstly, she visits three indigenous cultures that have traditional child-rearing methods that result in respectful, helpful, confident teens and adults. Second, she talks to behavioral scientists and presents the current understanding of behavioral forces like motivation, skill acquisition, and incentives, and shows how different parenting strategies presented in the book measure up to the science.
And thirdly, and perhaps most entertainingly, she presents how all of these new ideas and methods worked on her own rambunctious three-year-old.
I really enjoyed this book—couldn’t put it down. It was funny, made me feel like I wasn’t doing all that badly with my own children, and encouraged me to do things like let my just-barely-four-year-old crack eggs and then scramble them for the family…. She was actually pretty good at it!
Another thing I appreciated about this book was her call for stronger social networks and communities to support parents in their parenting. She explains very compellingly why “it takes a village to raise a child,” and gives practical tips on building your own village to help you, even in the middle of a big city.
How to Speak so Little Kids will Listen
This book is a well-written and highly practical guide to teaching your child communication and social skills while disciplining effectively. It goes through a large number of typical problems pre-rational children present, and suggests multiple strategies for dealing with them. Every child and every parent is different, and this book encourages you to find a tailored approach that works for your child.
My favorite thing about this book was the idea of “problem solving.” If you have a toddler who is consistently resisting some seemingly basic rule or task, there’s usually a reason behind it. The problem-solving method helps you walk through a strategy for figuring out why the child doesn’t want to do the thing, resolving the issue, and figuring out a way to make both the child and the parent happy. An excellent example from the book is the toddler who doesn’t want his hand held while crossing the busy parking lot. The book encourages parents in this situation to figure out why the toddler doesn’t want his hand held, and then work with the kid to come up with a solution that does work. (I had this problem, and the solution we worked out for us was for my daughter to hold onto the shopping cart instead. Our shopping trips have been much more pleasant.) What I liked about this strategy was that I feel like it models relationship skills. This sort of problem-solving behavior where each side presents their difficulties and they work together to find a solution where both parties feel respected and get what they need is absolutely vital to a successful marriage or friendship. If you want your kids to grow up with the skills to manage conflict constructively in their lives, I highly recommend giving some of the ideas in this book a try.
Some of the ideas in the book come across as very silly, but, as the book points out, sometimes silly works.
The New Six Point Plan for Raising Happy Healthy Children
This book, unlike the previous three, is mostly about raising older children. John Rosemond handles topics like argumentative teenagers, allowances, and in general, managing kids incentives so that they develop the virtues and qualities you want them to as they grow up.
One of my favorite things in this book was the idea of teaching your teenager how to argue with you. Tolerate absolutely no disrespect from your child, but absolutely allow him to present his case, and if he has a good case, by all means compromise with him where appropriate. Once again, I appreciated this approach because it not only increases child cooperation, it also teaches an incredibly valuable social skill—disagreeing with someone else respectfully. (Imagine how much better American political life would be today if every parent taught their children how to disagree respectfully!)
Affiliate links if you want to buy these books, (and support my blog at no extra cost to you.) Or, of course, you can just do what I do, and get them from your local library.
(Disclaimer: I have three children, but the oldest is only 4… so it’s unclear how they’ll turn out. That being said, I do have several years experience teaching middle and highschoolers.)