How do you sort out the best parenting books from the thousands available?
I've revised this page in 2014 in light of a range of very special new parenting books which emphasize creating a strong, unconditionally-loving bond with your children. These books are strongly evidence-based which, in a nutshell, means that the principles they discuss work.
So what do I mean when I say these principles "work"? I mean that the principles discussed in these books help parents create relationships with their children that are supportive, encouraging and mutually-respectful.
Such relationships help children develop into people who are at peace with themselves, ready to tackle and enjoy life to the full. Confident and good-humoured, they can stand tall in their unique self, with their dignity and self-esteem intact and with the ability to empathize with and care for others. This is what I want for my children.
The books I've reviewed here are practical and firmly grounded in the science of interpersonal neurobiology. If you're after books that will help you parent your children with love, compassion, humour and firm guidance, these are the best parenting books to look for.
You can probably find most of these books in libraries and book shops or you can buy them online at really cheap prices with free postage from the Book Depository. I have many of them on my Kindle so I can refer to them whenever I like.
Most of the reviews include chapter headings as
this is the way I generally decide when flicking through a book whether
it will be useful.
The first book - Unconditional Parenting - is the one I suggest you begin with. For most of us, it is a real eye-opener.
1. Unconditional Parenting
This book challenges parents to think about the kind of relationship they want to have with their child and how they can create this. It's about putting the relationship first and using love and reason - rather than rewards and punishment - to help children become the caring, responsible people they were born to be. The basic premise is that all children need to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they mess up. So the key question parents face in every situation is "What does my child need – and how do I meet those needs?" Most of us weren't raised this way so the concepts in this book can be challenging. I really believe, though, that this is a ground-breaking and very important book for parents everywhere.
2. The Conscious Parent
Shefali Tsabary is a clinical psychologist who emphasizes the importance of compassion in parenting, discussing how we can develop it from our relationship with our children. This book is about becoming aware of ourselves - our thoughts, beliefs and feelings - at a deep level so that you can accept and connect with your child as the unique, special human being he is. Like the other books on this page, The Conscious Parent is very much about identifying and meeting the emotional needs of children, emphasizing acceptance, unconditional love, compassion and connection, rather than control or punishment. An important and fascinating book.
3. Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids
This book is subtitled "How to stop yelling and start connecting" and that's a pretty good summary of what it's about. Using the the latest research on brain development and her own experience as a clinical psychologist, Markham shows how parents can foster an emotional connection with their children which will wire the child's brain for emotional regulation and happiness. This is a book about raising a child who wants to behave well and about coaching rather than controlling our children. This is a relatively new book and I really believe it's a must-read for all parents and for parents-to-be.
4. Playful Parenting
Like the other books on this page, this book was really life-changing for me. Basically, it's about the importance of getting down and playing with your children and really enjoying it as a way of building strong connections and a warm, loving relationship. This is important for all children, all of the time however the author also devotes quite a bit of time to showing how play can help children work through hurts and even traumas in their lives. It can also help parents work out what's going on in a child's life and provide a way for parents to repair the child-parent relationship when things have gone badly between the two.
5. The 5 Love Languages of Children
This book has quite a strong Christian focus which can be a turn-off for some people if that's not your thing. However if you can ignore the Christian references, this book is well worth reading. The basic premise is that love is an action, not just an emotion and that we demonstrate our love for one another in five main ways: in words of affirmation, by giving gifts, by loving touch, by spending quality time together and by doing things for one another. Each of us needs to be on the receiving end of all these types of demonstrations of love in order to thrive however we all have a preferred "love language" and finding out what your child's is and "speaking it" regularly helps to build strong, loving relationships. A great, thought-provoking and easy-to-read book.
6. Parenting from the Inside Out
This book is also based on very recent research about how the brain works, covering memory, perceptions of reality, our emotions and the parent-child relationship. The book is firstly about making sense of our own childhood experiences so we can understand ourselves and what we bring to the parenting relationship. It goes on to discuss how this self-knowledge enables us to build a strong foundation of emotional well-being and security for our children, enabling them to thrive.
7. The Whole-Brain Child
This is another book based on recent research about the brain and emotions and it's brilliant. It's basically about the way the logical and emotional parts of our brains are connected, how they work independently and together at various times and how integrating them is the key to making good decisions and enabling us to regulate our emotions so that we - and our children - thrive. This is actually a very practical book, providing a step-by-step process for changing the way your brain works. That sounds weird but it's pretty clever and, from personal experience, it works.
8. Between Parent and Child
This book was recommended to me by a psychologist who specialises in family counselling. It's been around for a while and the author is regarded as one of the founders of peaceful parenting however this edition has been revised by his wife, Dr Alice Ginott, who is herself a clinical psychologist and family relationship specialist. Ginott starts from the premise that parenting is a skill that can be learned and goes on to explain how parents can discipline without threats, bribes, sarcasm, and punishment, express anger without hurting, acknowledge rather than argue with children's feelings, perceptions, and opinions and respond so that children will learn to trust and develop self-confidence. The book was revolutionary when it was first released because it was one of the first to offer straightforward guidelines for empathetic yet disciplined parenting. Written in a very accessible, easy-to-read style.
9. How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk
This book was first released about 30 years ago but has been revised a number of times and is still a very popular book, well-grounded in research and practice. The authors' approach to parenting is down-to-earth and respectful and aims to make relationships with children of all ages less stressful and more rewarding. One of the book's strengths is that it's illustrated with cartoons showing the communication skills in action. The book covers innovative ways to solve common problems, how to cope with your child's difficult feelings, how to express your anger without being hurtful, how to engage your child's willing cooperation, how to set firm limits and still maintain goodwill and how to use alternatives to punishment.
10. How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children
This is a simple, easy-to-follow book about how parents can communicate respectfully with their children. The book is based on the fact that children (all of us, really) have five critical needs: to feel respected, important, accepted, included and secure. How we communicate with our children and how we go about meeting these needs impacts their emotional well-being, our own emotional well-being and the well-being of our families. This book contains practical strategies and I found it hugely helpful on my parenting journey with my three children.
11. Parenting for a Peaceful World
This book was recommended to me by my wonderful GP. It delves into the sociological and anthropological aspects of parenting through the ages, with the view that parenting practices shape the world we live in and the choices we make for our children. Our parenting therefore affects not only our children, their lives and our relationships with them but also the society in which we live. This book is not a parenting manual but it does provide loads of thought-provoking ideas about the implications of different parenting styles.