A Passel of Books on Parenting

I recently realized that I had accumulated a sizeable backlog of parenting books on my TBR shelf, so I embarked on a mini-course of professional development. I usually try to mix up my reading across genres, but sometimes concentrated focus on one topic is instructive and worthwhile. Reading a bunch of parenting books in a row helped me to evaluate the books in light of each other, and also gave me a good list of really good ideas to try out on my guinea pigs children.

Love & Respect in the Family offers a helpful framework for thinking about how parents and children interact in families and how to foster a healthy atmosphere of communication, love, and respect.  I like how the author identifies the different unspoken goals parents and kids have in relating, and how we as adults can build a calm and supportive household environment, and help our kids to grow spiritually and in their ability to communicate and live in community with others.

A big strength of the book is the exhortations to parents.  The reminders that we, as the adults, set the tone in our homes, and are responsible for our reactions even if our kids are being disrespectful or sinning, is very, very helpful.  I thought the advice in the book was realistic and practical as well as being scripturally sound and inspiring.

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind is a really interesting and readable book on child development and neuroscience, but apart from that I recommend it for it’s excellent and, dare I say, game changing ideas for how to talk to your kids about how they can take control of their thoughts and emotions and learn to react and communicate better.

I tried this with Hannah with excellent results.  She’s eight, and the explanation of how our brains have two levels and she can use her “upstairs brain” to help her control her “downstairs brain” rather than flipping her lid has been so helpful for her.  I’ve seen an incredible improvement in her ability to calm herself down and handle her emotions.

Again, like so many things, this comes down to “change your thoughts” but the presentation in The Whole-Brain Child is really excellent.  I thought it was helpful that at the end of each chapter the authors tie the concept in to how parents can use it too.  Certainly we can all use tactical ideas for how to change our attitudes, improve our self-control, and communicate more effectively.

Written in the 1800s but still fresh and compelling, H. Clay Trumbull’s very helpful Hints on Child Training casts a great vision for a coherent philosophy/theology of parenting.  If you’re looking for something that balances vision with practical suggestions, this book would be a great choice.

I thought Trumbull’s book was an unusually coherent presentation of how to cultivate a calm, loving, supportive environment balanced with how to help children be self-disciplined, respectful, and courteous.  The section on helping kids learn to be courteous rather than just well-mannered, and the detailed thoughts on how to make bedtimes smooth and soothing for kids AND parents were excellent.  I also appreciated how Trumbull, himself a father of eight, held parents to a high standard without being flippant or condescending about the very real struggles of parenting.

Hints on Child Training is an excellent book, highly recommended, well worth owning, and it’s only 99 cents on Kindle so quite affordable!

I didn’t agree with everything in Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, but overall I found it to be an incredibly helpful reference on the different developmental stages of boys and parenting boys in general.  The authors offer a lot of great practical guidance for how to interpret and handle boys in various stages, things to watch out for, and ways to encourage boys and equip them for adulthood.  At some points in the book I felt a little panic because the authors described some attitudes and actions as foregone conclusions, but overall the tone of the book was helpful and hopeful.

Because we have three girls and one boy, I feel like it’s important for me to know how to treat Jack differently and parent him effectively and lovingly, and Wild Things gave me a lot of great tools for doing so.

The first half of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting was very helpful.  I found the author’s premise that parenting problems often stem from the parent’s need to self-regulate as much as from problems with the children insightful.  That’s a great point, and quite true, at least in my experience.  When I’m calm, the kids are calm(er), but when I’m stressed and tired and hungry and distracted, they get wound up too.  The first half of the book offers a lot of great insights into how parents can cultivate calm and defuse situations, as well as how to help kids learn to deal with big emotions and intensity in a positive way.

The second half of the book was less helpful, at least for me. I found I disagreed with many of the author’s opinions and conclusions about children, her thoughts on what the goals of parenting ought to be, and so forth.  I thought she threw the baby out with the bathwater a lot, and was reminded that our underlying philosophy and theology really do impact our practical decisions in life.

I’d recommend the first half of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, but I think you could probably stop at around page 100 and be none the worse for it.

The Key to Your Child’s Heart, by Gary Smalley, didn’t stick out to me as being particularly noteworthy in the sea of parenting books.  Most of the topics covered are covered better elsewhere, and on a few topics (such as punishment) I found I disagreed strongly with Smalley’s conclusions.

One point I did take away from the book, though, was Smalley’s encouragement to really communicate with children about their own goals before pushing them into activities.  In some sense, kids aren’t equipped to make decisions about spending their time (“Long division is not in line with my goals” probably shouldn’t carry water) but in other areas it’s useful to talk this through with your kids.  Smalley gives the example of playing a musical instrument.  He suggests asking the child, “From zero to ten, how good do you want to be?”  That way, if the child really wants to be a concert pianist, you can support that goal, but if she just wants to be able to play Heart and Soul you won’t waste as much time, money, and energy on it.

My mom, who has her masters degree in gifted education, recommended Jim Delisle’s books on gifted kids and although When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answersis really geared toward teachers in a classroom setting I did find it a helpful source for conversation starters.  After reading this book I feel even more respect for teachers who handle rooms full of gifted kids of different types and levels, and was glad that I only have to focus on my three scholars for now!  If you’re reading it from a parenting perspective, the book does have several great ideas for how to talk to your kids about things like perfectionism and goal setting.


What great parenting books have you been reading?  Have you had any parenting breakthroughs or epiphanies lately?


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One thought on “A Passel of Books on Parenting

  1. I, too, loved The Whole Brain Child. I’ll have to keep my eye out for the Wild Things book, since I have a brood of three of that rare beast.

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