Parenting books are a resource we are not short on in our culture. There is no shortage of things we can be anxious about. Where to start? How will you know the book will speak to your own experiences? As a fellow millennial, I feel your frustration and I hope this list will help you find some reads that can increase your confidence as a parent, even as a person!
Millennials Really Do Need Their Own List
Some have said that millennials were the most scheduled, praised, and hovered-over generation of all time. Our parents used a mix of yelling, praising, spanking, bribing, and entertaining to try to keep us in line. As a result, we’re a little confused about how we want to raise our kids.
I thought I was supposed to do whatever came naturally. But what if what naturally comes is yelling, nagging, bribing, and criticizing? We didn’t like being treated that way. Look where it got us? Millennials might be the least prepared for adulthood of any generation we’ve seen.
Why is that?
- Everything is scheduled. From the moment we woke to bedtime, especially late millennials, boredom was an inconvenience, not an opportunity.
- An abundance of praise. We were praised or criticized for everything we did. Teachers, coaches, and parents praised us for showing up and criticized us for not.
- Unreasonable expectations. The adults in our lives told us we could be anything we wanted to be. There’s a reason restaurants have a kid’s menu. Faced with a plethora of choices, we constantly second-guessed our every move, fearful we would make a wrong one.
- Reliance on others. More than any other generation we depend on our families to live the life we’re used to.
If you relate to these statements like I do then the books I talk about in this article are for you. These are the books that have helped me understand my own childhood and create the kind of environment I want for my own children. The books listed below are not the only books that will help you; these are the books I’ve read that have helped me the most.
I’ve included my own review of the book, a video that will help give you an overview of the ideas, as well as an Amazon link. You can follow me on Good Reads if you’d like to stay up with what else I’m reading.
Parenting Books on Psychology
Choice Theory has been the most impactful book in my collection regarding human relationships. No one has come close to explaining my own experiences in school and family life. If you didn’t like school or your kids don’t like school and you never understood why, this is a great book for you.
Choice Theory is about choice and control. We have far more choice than we’re conditioned to believe we have and we have far less control over others. We especially have the power to meet our own needs which are: Love and belonging, power, freedom, fun, and survival. Every choice is our best attempt at meeting one or more of these needs at the time.
Glasser formed his theory over decades of working as a counselor and psychiatrist. He served individuals, families, trained other counselors, and worked with several schools on how to turn around their practices.
Here is Dr. Glasser talking about some of his work and some of the concepts of Choice Theory are discussed here.
Dr. Glasser is deceased. His books are still available through his website that’s managed by his wife. One of Glasser’s closest colleagues, Robert Wubbolding, still works and writes on the topics Glasser developed. You can learn more about him through the Center for Reality Therapy.
Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes
I read Punished by Rewards while still using and promoting what I called “Good job tickets.” They’re exactly like they sound, little tickets given as rewards to students for doing a good job. Kohn earned my admiration with this book through his attention to detail. Kohn’s work is a direct response to the “conditioning” promoted by psychologist B.F. Skinner.
Skinner influenced schools to use praise and rewards to get the behavior adults wanted out of children. Kohn argues that rewards are the same thing as punishments. Teachers may get short-term compliance but they will not earn the student’s engagement. Furthermore, it will drive many of the students further from the goals the teacher has for them.
I abandoned my “good job tickets” after reading this book and have never looked back!
Not long after being released Kohn was a guest on Oprah and was able to talk about his book. Oprah’s team also runs a very small experiment to try to confirm Kohn’s review of the research.
Alfie Kohn is still researching, writing, and speaking. If you like his style you may want to follow him on his website.
Praising children actually sets them up to fail. Our praise sets up expectations for our children where they only expect to succeed. As a result, children start to develop what she calls a “fixed” mindset. What parents want to do is nurture a “growth” mindset instead.
Fixed Mindset – The idea that our talents and intelligence are fixed and unchangeable. It seems absurd at first but when you read the examples in her book you’ll likely feel the connection.
Growth Mindset – The growth mindset is that our talents and intelligence are not fixed, that we can grow them through our experiences. You probably exhibit a growth mindset in a few of the things you care most about in life.
This conversation with Tom Bilyeu is a great overview of her book: If you don’t feel like buying the book quite yet then watch this first.
For more resources you may want to browse Carol Dweck’s website, Mindset Works.
I read this book right around the time we had our first child. I was still teaching in the classroom full time and was always on the lookout for resources that would help me interact with children in a more respectful way.
“How to Talk,” which is what I call it, is really about the importance of our interactions with our kids. We need to remove judgment from our language and make sure we are not being critical, nagging, blaming, and of course punishing them for being kids.
It was the first book I’d come across that taught me how I could have rules without being a ruler. One of my favorite features of the book was the use of cartoons to explain the things we feel like saying versus the things we should be saying. One school built a presentation on the concepts using several images from the book.
Here is an older video of the two authors talking about the principles of the book. It feels a little odd to listen to the way they role-play with each other but the message is clear: Treat children with respect.
You can find more on their work on their website.
On School Engagement and Achievement
I read The Quality School not long after reading Choice Theory. I was still working in the school system at this time and this short book just floored me.
Glasser argues that a quality education is about learning how to do quality work, not merely finishing a series of tasks. Students should get ample opportunities without punishments to be able to do the work correctly, which will be a learning process itself. Furthermore, he shows how helping students learn how to do quality work also teaches students how to meet their own needs and does away with many of the most frustrating behaviors in students.
Students actually want to do well. Given enough opportunities most students will do the “right” thing; even more students will do a good thing. The students who don’t do the “right” thing or even a good thing could be students that are struggling with a very strong desire to rebel or might even be suffering from an undiagnosed antisocial personality disorder.
This video is not a direct review of the book but I’m learning that what Glasser wrote about has really become known as “trauma-informed” schools. This video gives a great overview of some of the principles.
For more information you may want to review the resources from Jim Sporleder, the principal of the school featured in the above video.
Parenting Books for New Parents
I looked at the cover of this book and said to my wife (we had just seen The Lego Movie not long before this) “This is going to be some hippie-dippie bologna.” But, the book was tied to Magda Gerber’s organization and I wanted to see what it was all about.
I really couldn’t put it down. We had one child at the time who was only a year old. We started implementing the concepts immediately and were very excited about the results we were getting. Solomon’s book seems to align very closely to other books mentioned in my list, especially Choice Theory.
As the title suggests, our babies really do know what they’re capable of. If we take the time to listen and learn from what they’re saying to us, they can actually communicate a great deal about themselves. Solomon teaches how we can treat our children with respect, even as little infants, and how we can learn to appreciate a child’s sense of direction.
This video is longer than I would like for a post like this but if you’d like to hear the author talk through some of the concepts then it would be very valuable.
Solomon continues to write and work with parents through her website.
I’ve gifted and recommended this book more than any other on this list. The practical advice in addition to the short length make it a great read, especially if you’re new to the idea of no punishments or rewards to try to control behavior. Janet Lansbury studied directly with infant specialist Magda Gerber. Gerber is known for her breakthrough work with infants, teaching parents how to have a strong bond with their children while maintaining a strong attachment too. (The bond is generally referring to the way a parent feels about their child while attachment refers to the way a child feels about the parent.)
The overarching message is: Toddlers want to be heard. Instead of punishing, ignoring, distracting, and criticizing toddlers for being toddlers, we need to listen and accept their right to have feelings.
You’ll find many overlapping ideas with Baby Knows Best, How to Talk, and Choice Theory, but Lansbury focuses just on those trying toddler years.
I wasn’t able to find a good video of Lansbury talking about her book but this review does a nice job of capturing some of the principles and strategies.
Lansbury’s website, Elevating Child Care, is incredible. She has so many free resources for parents and I hear she’s even working on a third book. Lansbury was formative in helping me launch my own practice of writing about parenting and even turned one of my stories about following the pace of our children into a post on her blog. She called it, “the Secret to a Great Family Outing.”
There are many other books I’ve read that have informed my practice as a parent but these are all the ones that have stood out. If this is your first time here and you want to familiarize yourself with our parenting style you’ll want to check out these articles first: