Books For Parents: Some of our Favorite Picks

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The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind

An insightful book written by Daniel Siegel, M.D., researcher, educator, and psychiatrist, and Tina Bryson PhD, writer, teacher, and psychotherapist, both of whom have worked extensively with children and families.  The book is a good combination of authoritative academic research and science, and practical applications that parents can use.  The authors do a skillful job at simplifying brain and neuroscience concepts and translating them into something comprehensible and practical for parents.
The book provides perspective on not just surviving the stressful and harrowing instances parents face each day, but recognizing that many of these instances can be great opportunities to develop our children’s emotional health and development.  A foundational idea presented in the book is that by understanding some basics of how the mind works, we can work towards better “integration” of the parts of the mind (and self).  This integration in turn allows for more effective parenting in the moment, as well as helping lay the foundation for happier and stronger kids and families.  The authors make the case that we can use the child’s whole-brain (the emotional right and logical left, the “upstairs and downstairs” parts), as well as a better awareness of self and our interconnectedness to ultimately forge stronger children and family bonds by using these moments well.  All while recognizing that no parent is perfect, that not every situation is a choreographed moment to be an ideal parent, and that sometimes we’ll slip and make mistakes.
There are plenty of examples in each chapter on how to apply these concepts to everyday situations, and parents may chuckle (or cringe) in recognition of some of the scenarios provided.  The cartoons throughout the book may seem silly at first, but they actually prove effective at presenting the key information in a different way (and can also be used to share some of the ideas with kids, something the authors highly encourage).  Boxes at the end of each section bring the ideas discussed back to how our own adult minds work, and how this reflects back onto our children.
It’s no easy task to bridge complex science of how the brain works, with actionable strategies parents can use in specific situations.  However, the authors do an admirable job of providing tools and strategies for parents who want healthier, happier kids and relationships.

The Montessori Toddler: A Parent's Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being

With the Montessori approach to education gaining increasing notoriety, “The Montessori Toddler:  A Parent’s Guide to Raising A Curious and Responsible Human Being” (Workman Publishing, 2019) serves as a nice primer on the basic principles and practices, written by someone who seems to care deeply about these concepts and their practical application.  Author Simone Davies, also a parent, blogger, and Association Montessori Internationale certified educator, does a commendable job of making the approach accessible to everyone from the merely curious, to parents who are ready to go all in on the approach.  Since a full fledged private Montessori school is outside of the budget of many families, we like how the book offers several ways to introduce the principles in the home, without having to spend a lot of money.

To us, the Montessori principles outlined in the book are more important than the specifics (though the book goes into both).  For instance, the importance of the home and learning environments, and the encouragement of natural curiosity are part of the foundation that informs the Montessori approach.  But the book delivers for those looking for more detailed, practical applications of these (and other) principles that can be applied in the home on a daily basis.

Questions at the end of each chapter help readers bridge from ideas and concepts to practical application in the home.  For those thinking of sending their kids to a Montessori school, there’s a useful list in the appendix of what to look for in a specific school (since the term Montessori is used loosely by some schools).  Throughout the books, useful charts lay out information and ideas in ways that make it easy to absorb (such as good activities to do with kids by age).

Well designed and easy to use as a reference, it’s no wonder that the “The Montessori Toddler” has proven popular since its publication.

The Formula: Unlocking the Secrets to Raising Highly Successful Children

Raising happy and successful children isn’t necessarily science, even if we sometimes wish it were (when X goes wrong, simply apply Y and you’re all good!).  But authors Ronald Ferguson and Tatsha Robertson do an admirable job distilling about 200 interview-based surveys, conducted over the course of fifteen years, down to what they term the “Formula” for how the parents of successful children operate.  The stories and anecdotes are interesting and enlightening in their own right, and in sum the authors boil their observations down into a “Formula”  used by the parents of the successful young adults they studied.  This formula includes eight roles that the authors say that “master” parents play in the lives of their children.  Throughout the book, there are plenty of references to other parenting theories, educational approaches, childhood psychology studies, and brain science to help paint a fuller picture for the reader.
The book grew out of a project started by Ferguson at Harvard University, called the How I was Parented Project.  The authors note that about half of the 200 subjects they studied came out of the project at Harvard, while the other half came from other research the authors completed for the book.  In the text, the authors define success as raising adults who are “fully realized,” and that being fully realized means integrating purpose, agency, and smarts.  The authors noticed that despite the varying economic backgrounds, race, class, and other differences of the young adults they studied, the parents of successful children tend to (knowingly or unknowingly) fill eight roles for their successful children.  These range from the crucial “Early Learning Partner,” to the later important “Fixer” of external circumstances and issues that arise. 
This insightful book makes a strong case that raising successful children involves certain patterns, or roles, from which parents of all backgrounds can learn and apply.  And as the authors argue, being strategic and intentional about how we spend time with our children, and what roles we play (and when), may do wonders for their future success.

Zero to Five: Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science

“Zero to Five” is an accessible collection of scientific studies that help inform and provide actionable tips for the parenting of young children.  Tracy Cutchlow brings together dozens of studies into an attractive format aimed at the parents from pre-birth, to about five years old.  Each page packs a lot in in terms of things parents can practically use.  The book is chock-full of good studies and hints ranging from nutrition, to managing stress, to reading time, to TV time, to exercise, to keeping your relationship with your partner healthier, to discipline and more.

Author Tracy Cutchlow uses her extensive background in journalism and research to bring together a rich collection of studies, nicely presented with personal touches and stories, as well as pictures of “real” families.  As the author suggests in the introduction, the book is best used as a guide.  She quickly points out that she’s not a neuroscientist nor a child development expert.  But she’s clearly a professional (and mom) who cares a tremendous amount, and who did an admirable job of bringing together a useful collection of studies and information that help parents at a very practical level.  All refreshing, and many are surprisingly useful.  We learned several things from the book, as it includes a bunch of information we either didn’t know, or didn’t appreciate enough. 

We have the spiral-bound edition, and enjoy the format for absorbing this type of information.  Key takeaways are presented in a succinct fashion, and we thought that the pictures of real families were a nice touch.

The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish

We’re fans of positive psychology and focusing on strengths.  So when we came across this book by Lea Waters, PhD applying these ideas to parenting and raising happy, successful children, we knew we had to check it out.

Lea Waters is a positive psychologist, professor, researcher, speaker and writer.  Early in the book she asserts that optimism and resilience are important psychological traits for our children to develop, and argues that three decades of positive psychology and strengths-based research show a variety of clear benefits for both children and parents.  Waters provides a solid background on relevant psychological concepts, as well as strategies for overcoming inhibitors such as our innate negative biases.  The book also offers tools and strategies for helping both parents and kids better direct our attention to help focus on the “switch” to a strength focus.

Waters discusses things most of us commonly identify as strengths, such as skills, abilities, and talents, but also others we may not immediately consider, such as interests, characteristics, traits, and talents.  She also offers useful frameworks for identifying strengths, such as the three characteristics that strengths share (performance, energy level, and high use).

Given the growing body of research on the benefits of positive psychology and strengths-based approaches, this book is a worthwhile read for parents and children alike.

The Science of Parenting

Starting from the perspective of neuroscience and brain research, “The Science of Parenting” offers perspectives, suggestions, and recommendations on everything from sleep, crying, play, the fostering of love and joy, siblings, bullying, social development, discipline, and more.

There are many useful suggestions and ideas in the books that can be applied from before a child is born, to the earliest days after birth, and up through the later childhood years.

A focus on how the brain works and develops, and what this means for healthy interactions with our children at various ages, and corresponding brain and emotional development levels, is what differentiates this book.  Helping explain the “why” of how our children act as they do at certain ages is enlightening, and can help deal with stressful parenting situations in the moment.

While the book attempts to be grounded in science, psychology, and studies of the brain, as is often the case, a reader still may not agree with all conclusions (think sleep training, day care choices, discipline, etc.).  In many respects, these areas remain personal, situational, and subjective for many parents.  Also, studies by other researchers may indicate different conclusions than the author has drawn.  However, the book is a useful addition to the many tools, resources, and experiences that help form the basis for how we interact with, and raise, each of our unique children.