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Best Parenting Books To Help You Be a Happier, Calmer, and More Relaxed Person

Updated on September 22, 2011

Parenting Books Can Actually Calm You Down, Not Stress You Out!

I always try to make my first rule of parenting to be non-judgmental of other people's approaches, and to encourage everyone to do what is best for them and their family. However, this means that I end up being judgmental of books that do otherwise! I have to admit that I am biased against parenting books that make you feel that (a) if you do a certain thing (e.g., let a baby sleep in your bed) it will have irrevocable lasting harmful results, or (b) if you just follow their simple steps you will have a quick fix for a problem.

I don't like (a) because I believe that as long as you approach parenting with all the love and respect that you have, no one thing will have a horrible lasting effect on your child. I don't like it when books use scare tactics to get you to follow their approach.

I don't like (b) because I believe that there are no quick fixes or short cuts in parenting. I believe that consistency over time is really important, and lots of times you will feel like you are not "getting anywhere" but staying true to yourself and what you believe rather than some instructions from a book will serve you and your child best.

Now that I've come clean with where I'm coming from, these are the books that I have found to be the most helpful. I believe that you can read about parenting without it making you feel bad about yourself or tricking you into doing things you don't want to do. All of these books below make me feel happier and more relaxed (hence the title!) and also give me ideas that apply to my whole life and all of my relationships - that itself is to me a huge indication that they are worth reading.

Book Recommendation #1: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

I already know this is a book that I will turn to time and time again, throughout the course of my son's life. I started reading it when he was only a year and a half, and I thought it might not have anything that applied to us, but it actually turned out to give me the most practical suggestions I've gotten from any book so far.

Basic qualities that make this a great, calming book to read:

  • Super non-judgmental tone - written by two moms, and everything is phrased in terms of things you could try.
  • Comes from a general philosophy of being respectful of your kid and their emotions, but also respectful of yourself and your own needs.
  • Easy to read - written in very easy to understand language, and short chapters, with lots of examples and even cartoons!
  • Gives very tangible and specific suggestions of things to try with your child. They actually say in the intro (I just recently realized that introductions to books actually have a point and help you understand the whole book!) that they wrote the book because someone wrote to them asking for specific ways to carry out the general principles they were talking about.

Specific ideas that were most helpful to me:

  • They introduced the concept of granting in fantasy what you can't grant in reality (or that's my recollection of the general concept). They gave examples of concrete language you can use "I wish I could get you [x], but we can pretend that we have it" - that type of thing. I was highly skeptical that this would work, but tried it one day when my son was maybe a year and a half. He would get all worked up in the car when he saw a balloon outside and start whining for it. Now I will do a lot of things that other people think are crazy, but I do have a line, and it's somewhere before pulling over the car and stealing balloons from a used car lot. So I tried saying "I can't get you that one, but here's a pretend balloon!" Amazingly, he loved it. Kept asking for more. And I could keep giving as many as he wanted! We actually use this a lot and it's been such a great suggestion.
  • Honestly, this is the book that I have used so many specific ideas from, and I don't want to go on and on about it here (though maybe I will in a separate hub!), but I urge you to just pick up the book - there's something for everyone, with kids of any age, and it applies to relationships with people in general, not just your kids (validating emotions turns out to be very useful with many people of all ages!).

Book Recommendation #2: Between Parent and Child

There is a fair amount of overlap between this book and "How to Talk..." as well as "Playful Parenting" but I love them all so much and got a lot out of all of them. Actually, one of my favorite bloggers pointed out that the other two come directly from Between Parent and Child. She has a short discussion of these books, including a great discussion in the comments about other great parenting books. But I digress - I think the general concept of this book boils down to mutual respect (or that's how I see it), and the book shows how to approach every aspect of parenting from this orientation.

Basic qualities that make this a great book to read:

  • It really provides a basic foundation for approaching all aspects of parenting. It is a philosophy that will help guide you through any situation, with a child of any age (and with your adult relationships!).
  • Explains basic concepts that are probably now fairly prevalent in many communities (giving alternatives instead of just saying no) in a very simple and clear way. It helped me internalize ideas that I had heard and made sense to me, but after reading this book I was able to really incorporate them into my day to day life.
  • Provides the foundation for a positive, respectful approach to discipline. As one of the amazon reviews said, it helps you learn to communicate respectfully with your children without becoming "a wimpy parent."

Specific ideas that were most helpful to me:

  • The idea that there are no unacceptable emotions, only unacceptable actions. Just this way of separating the two things is very helpful to me. When my son starts chucking his trains, I don't have to get mad at him or try to minimize his frustration. I can tell him it's ok to be frustrated, but we have to figure out a way to get out that frustration without throwing things (like hitting the couch, or running around). It doesn't always work instantly, but I feel much better about myself and my connection with him when I'm not communicating to him that his genuine emotions are somehow wrong. But I also maintain my ability to set limits and redirect his actions.

Book Recommendation #3: Playful Parenting

I love the whole title of this book and I think it provides a great way for us to get out of the trap of having to be boring, responsible adults. Play isn't a waste of time - it's about learning and connecting.

Basic qualities that make this a great book to read:

  • Helps you think about the purpose of play. Play is not about running away from responsibility, but rather about "joining children in their world" and connecting with kids. As the preface describes, it can help you learn "how to help them [kids] work through their emotional blocks and how to handle their strong emotions (and your own). There is so much that children can't do or aren't allowed to do, and pretend play (which is the type of play that the book talks about a lot) allows them to work that through.
  • Lots of individual stories. It's just a very interesting book to read, even if you're not looking for ideas about how to be a better parent. The stories also give you ideas about how to translate the concepts into real life. The only drawback is, I do think it's better to read this book when you have some time to focus on it. It's not particularly easy just to pick it up and read a page or two.
  • Provides new ways of thinking about discipline. The chapter on rethinking discipline provides an alternative to the traditional punishment model. What I got from it was the idea of looking at the underlying need of a difficult behavior, and trying to address that through play/pretend instead of focusing on punishment for the act. It's more of a general concept than concrete advice, but I like the framework.

Specific ideas that were most helpful to me:

  • There is a good story in the "Accept Strong Feelings (Theirs and Yours)" chapter that gave me good ideas about dealing with whining. The basic idea is to provide fun examples of a different way of talking (in a pleasant voice!) that helps address the underlying need. It also models for kids that they can choose to be positive. It's helped me move on from just saying "stop whining!" to providing fun alternatives.

Book Recommendation #4: Everyday Blessings

This book is the most abstract or theoretical of the four, but it gave me some great ideas about how to reflect on myself as a parent, and how to be more "mindful" in general.

Basic qualities that make this a great book to read:

  • Gives you a chance to reflect on yourself as a parent. The subtitle is "The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting" and that really does capture it - reading this book helped me take a step back and help me think about myself - as a parent - and how striving to be a better, more mindful, and more present person can help me be a better parent as well. It seems to me that often the parenting books forget that we - parents - are people, with our own whole set of 'issues' (and needs). If we ignore this, we might not be aware of ways we are turning things that aren't actually problems into problems (and the reasons we are doing this), and might lose an opportunity for self-improvement.
  • Easy to just pick up and dive into one chapter at a time - the book is organized into ten general sections with chapters of varying length in each section. Each chapter really stands on its own and you don't have to read it in any particular order for it to make sense. Some of the chapters are just a page or two, and just reading one of them at the end of a tough day can really help bring some perspective.
  • Helps you see the long view of parenting. One of the chapters is titled "An Eighteen-Year Retreat." In it they compare parenting to a years long meditation retreat, and suggest that if we approach it in this way, we might have a different perspective on our daily lives. They describe the practice of living mindfully as "to be fully present, looking deeply, as best we can, and without judging or condemning events or our experience of them. Just presence, and appropriate action, moment by moment." They suggest that doing this might "help us to realize the enormous power in seeing and remembering the larger context of wholeness, so that we are not lost in the surface waves of our own minds and our sometimes narrowly conceived and clung to lives."

How this book has helped me in my life:

  • I grew up around this kind of talk, but I realize it might sound a little out there to some people. In a practical way, the idea of trying to be a mindful parent has helped me in the tough moments - say, when my son is being incredibly whiny - to step back and observe the moment without judgment - to observe how strongly I react inside and to be curious about why that is - to take it as an opportunity to learn more about myself and to try to react in a way that feels right and honest to me, while not bringing in a lot of outside 'stuff' (like concerns about how I will be perceived by other parents if I don't respond "appropriately", whether he will whine for the rest of his life, etc).

Final Recommendation: Listen to Your Intuition Above All!

I don't believe we should turn to parenting books to "tell us what to do" any more than I believe we should simply dictate to our children what they should do. I like all of these books because they are respectful of us as parents, and offer suggestions from that perspective. I recommend these books because I think they help you get in touch with your own intuition, which should be the ultimate guide to your own parenting!

I would love to hear if others have thoughts on these books, or have other books they think can help us be calmer, happier, more relaxed, and more fun parents.


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