What I'm Reading: Reviews of Parenting Books

I'm asked to endorse at least 50 books a year. Given time constraints, I choose only about a third of those to read, and only a fraction of those to endorse. There are so many wonderful books out there that I can't possibly review them all. So I apologize to those authors I've missed. Some of those books are on individual pages of this website, dealing, for instance, with specific ages or issues. If there's a book you think I should review, please drop me a note.

And please click here for links to the parenting books that have most influenced my thinking.

Reviews of Parenting Books

BabyCalm: A Guide for Parents on Sleep Techniques, Feeding Schedules, and Bonding with Your New Baby by Sarah Ockwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith's BabyCalm provides a welcome antidote to the storm of advice that so often overwhelms new parents. An advocate for mothers, Ockwell-Smith's goal is to help new moms gain confidence in their own instincts, and learn to trust themselves and their babies. Toward that end, she shares her stories and those of other mothers, encouraging readers to consider their own needs and listen to their babies. There are priceless strategies, from the "Tiger in the Tree" baby-calming hold to the suggestions for recovering from a psychologically traumatic birth. But the real treasure in this book is the reassuring, anti-guilt approach, which is why it's the perfect gift for any mother-to-be.

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel J. Siegel MD

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brainbreaks new ground in explaining how the brain develops, and what happens during the developmental phase that we call the teen years. Siegel refutes a number of pervasive myths, such as the idea that your teen's attitude derives from his raging hormones. He explains why the teenage brain assesses risk differently, and why teenagers actually do get bored more easily. He makes suggestions about how to work with your teenager and her brain to help her stay safe, but more importantly, to support her to grow and thrive.

But this isn't just a book for parents of teens. It's actually several books in one.

1. Brainstorm is a primer on what research is showing us about how the brain works, including the role of dopamine and our drive toward novelty. This fascinating research has implications for humans of all ages, and Siegel uses it to make invaluable suggestions on how we as adults can keep our brains young. His thoughts about addiction encompass not just the alcohol and drugs we're afraid our teens will try, but texting and even high glycemic foods--and the role of collaboration, exploration, and flow as preventives to addiction. And don't miss Siegel's inspirational comments about why passive education doesn't work for teens and how our school system should be redesigned, based on what brain research is showing us.

2. Brainstorm is a primer on Mindfulness. There's a whole section on staying present (rather than getting reactive) during the developmental hurdles of the teen years. But even more exciting are the hands-on tools and exercises throughout the book, designed to help the reader develop what Siegel calls Mindsight. So if you've been wanting to explore what it would mean for you to be more mindful, but didn't know where to begin, this is your book.

3. Brainstorm is a primer on attachment. This book explores how early attachment affects kids as they grow, impacting a teen's motivation to connect with his parents, and even to self-regulate and manage his impulses. Parents of young children will find this eye-opening.

4. Brainstorm is designed not just for parents of teens, but for teens themselves. Hard to imagine, I know, but I think the book straddles that dual purpose beautifully. Siegel is a champion for adolescents, and his appreciation of them comes through loud and clear, in a way that I think teens will respond to. I'm betting that the natural introspection of teens will pique their interest in Siegel's mindfulness suggestions, which would be a lifelong gift for any teen. And Siegel's approach is a wonderful antidote to the cynicism, lack of motivation and lack of meaning that plague far too many teens. An ambitious book? Indeed. I think it succeeds.

Encouraging Words for Kids: What to Say to Bring Out a Child’s Confidence by Kelly Bartlett

If you've heard that praise isn't the best way to develop your child's inner compass but you're not sure what to say instead, Kelly Bartlett has written the ebook for you.

Encouraging Words for Kids: What to Say to Bring Out a Child's Confidence, clears up any confusion about the difference between praise and encouragement so you understand why "Good Job!" and similar comments actually undermine your child's confidence.

Her examples of parent-child interactions illustrate beautifully why children respond so differently when you evaluate them with approval than when you empower them with acceptance.

Best of all, the book has a number of actual phrase lists that you can keep handy to help you express your encouragement, appreciation, and support for your child. A positive, encouraging, and practical book for parents!


Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate

Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers is one of the books that has most influenced the way I understand preteens and teenagers. It contradicts most of ideas I was taught in grad school, about how teens need to rebel against parents. That wasn't my experience with my own teens, and Neufeld and Mate explain that. They contend that it isn't normal for adolescents to withdraw from their parents, even as peers become more important. Instead, they argue, in our culture the parent-child relationship is eroded over the years by the child-raising practices we take for granted. By the time they're adolescents, kids begin looking to their peers for the attachment they're missing at home. So if parents can accept their child's emerging independence, use a peaceful parenting approach, and stay connected, the connection stays strong. This book is always on my short list of the Best Parenting Books I Know, and is most useful for parents of kids nine and up.

It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker

Do you wonder how to handle the pressure to share in social situations? What to do when kids exclude another child? How to help your child join a group of children who are playing? Whether it's okay for kids to play fantasy games with guns and pretend violence? When to step in and when to step back? Heather Shumaker to the rescue! She takes on the shiboleths that many parents take for granted, replacing them with fresh thinking that better supports children's emotional development. Every parent of a toddler or preschooler, and every teacher, needs this book to help them navigate the complex world of children's social interactions. I love this book, and I recommend it constantly.

Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges

Patty Wipfler is quietly revolutionizing parenting by explaining emotions so that parents not only understand their child's behavior, but know exactly how to support their child to transform that behavior. You wouldn't think a parenting book would be a page-turner, but this one is. Wipfler and her co-author Tosha Schore demonstrate the power of listening to children, with story after story of parents helping their child master the large and small traumas of everyday life. Every parent needs this book.

Mindful Parenting: Simple and Powerful Solutions for Raising Creative, Engaged, Happy Kids in Today's Hectic World by Kristen Race, PhD

In our increasingly hectic world, many parents feel too busy, stressed and distracted to teach their kids how to live healthy lives. Kristen Race shares sobering research that will motivate you to change all that. Then she shows you how, with a book full of  simple, practical tips, ideas and exercises to make it easy. Mindful Parenting is the perfect mix of eye-opening science and practical inspiration we all need to help us slow down, model mindfulness, and stay connected as a family. 

Important Note from Author Kristen Race, Ph.D.

It has come to my attention that there is significant controversy over the practices endorsed in the book On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo and Robert Ecknam, including potential health risks like failure to thrive, malnutrition, and emotional disorder. I’ve removed all reference to and recommendation of the book from Mindful Parenting. Please let me know if you have any questions about this decision. 

In the original printing of this book, there is a positive reference to BabyWise on page 135.  When I originally read this book and gave it a positive endorsement, I am embarrassed to say that I somehow I missed that reference. You may be aware that Babywise is controversial. But this is much more than controversy; virtually everyone I respect in the field considers Babywise to be dangerous. Even if no one else was sounding the alarm about Babywise, I would have to be guided by the American Association of Pediatrics position that Babywise can lead to failed nursing, dehydration, and failure to thrive. http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/14/4/21.abstract

You can hear from parents who have used Babywise and found it destructive here:


When I became aware of the positive comment about BabyWise on page 135 of this book, I immediately wrote to the author, Kristen Race, who responded by having that reference removed from all subsequent printings. Her comment:

"Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I am embarrassed to say that I was completely unaware of this controversy.... This information is incredibly alarming! I will absolutely remove the reference from future printings. I am also happy to reference the removal of the recommendation in my newsletter in the meantime."

If Race were writing about babies, her ignorance on this issue would concern me. But since her field is brain science related to mindfulness and how that applies to older children, and since I believe that her book provides an important resource to parents, I am happy to give her the benefit of the doubt and take the "corrected" book on its own merits. I hope you will, too. 

Raising Your Spirited Child

If you have a child who is "more" -- more intense, more persistent, more sensitive -- you probably already know who Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is. She wrote the book on spirited children, literally -- Raising Your Spirited Child . The newly revised third edition is just as reassuring and eye-opening as the first edition. But it's completely rewritten and updated, with more step by step advice, concrete examples, and practical tips. Just the new chapter on helping spirited kids get to sleep will be worth the price of the book for exhausted parents. Kurcinka's great contribution to the field is that she helps even the most frustrated parent appreciate her spirited child's strengths. In this book she takes her commitment to positive parenting a step further, giving parents the hands-on tools they need to ease the challenges of life with a spirited child, without resorting to punishment. If your child is MORE, you will love this book!

Sally Weans from Night Nursing by Lesli D. Mitchell, MSW

If you've been nursing your baby or toddler at night and you're ready to stop, this is the book for you. I think this book would be understandable even for a child as young as 15 months. Luckily, Sally is an indeterminate age, so an older child will still see him or herself in the story. I also love that the child and mom are of indeterminate race. The illustrations are lovely and the language is toddler-friendly. The book acknowledges that the child may wake up at night and feel sad and angry that she can't nurse, but that the next morning she can nurse again. Most important, the book communicates that the child is still loved and that there are many other ways that mommies love their little ones, besides nursing. Altogether, the tone manages to both validate the hard parts of night-weaning and at the same time celebrate the child's growing independence, while honoring the love between parent and child. The author is a social worker, and she also has provided some helpful and supportive notes in the book to guide parents through the night-weaning process. Note: This is NOT a book about total weaning, just weaning from night nursing.

Say What You See For Parents and Teachers by Sandra Blackard

Don't you wish you always knew the right thing to say to your child? This is the book for you!

We all know that children need to be loved unconditionally. The question is how to express our whole-hearted acceptance even while we're guiding their behavior. The answer, says Sandy Blackard, is simply to "say what you see."

So, for instance, most parents feel challenged to set limits empathically. When your child comes running up to interrupt you while you're speaking to someone else, Blackard suggests that you might say "You have something to say that you're very excited about" to acknowledge your child's feelings, and then put your arm around him as you set your limit or expectation: "I really want to hear, in just a moment. Hold that thought."

"Saying what you see" is also an invaluable way to give your child the attention and acknowledgment she craves, without undermining her confidence with evaluative praise. So when your child asks "Mom, do you like my painting? Is it good?" Blackard suggests instead of evaluating her work -- which takes the power out of her hands and makes her look to others to tell her if she's good enough -- you say what you see. "You're working carefully to color in that shape, covering all the little white spaces that are showing through."

This little gem, packed with examples and illustrations, is a simple, elegant, user-friendly guide to giving the healthy feedback that all children need. Highly recommended.

And don't miss my interview with Sandra Blackard. To download, click here:
Say What You See

Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World

When you hand your child their first phone, you also need to support them with guidance about apps, games, group texts, sexting, porn, predators, geotagging and more. If that sounds overwhelming, get your hands on Devorah Heitner's Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in their Digital World. It's a reassuring, tech-positive book full of practical advice for parents to help kids manage their digital lives.

The Biting Solution: The Expert's No-Biting Guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Early Childhood Educators by Lisa Poelle

If your child is biting, this is the book for you.  Biting is completely normal for little ones, because our mouths are the first part of our bodies to get tense.  So when other children encroach on your son's play space, knock over his toys, or shove him, his body "explodes" with tension, and it all comes out through the mouth.

But of course biting is painful to the other child, frustrating for the caregiver, and embarrassing for parents.  Not to mention, our kids don't actually WANT to bite other children. It's an act of desperation, a cry for our help.

But most parents have no idea where to begin to help their child stop biting. There's usually so much shame on the part of the parents that they just make the child feel bad -- without giving him tools to stop biting.

Enter Lisa Poelle, MA, who worked for 25 years with children and parents. Instead of shaming and blaming, she shows you how to teach children -- even very young children -- to express their needs and emotions in words, so they don't have to bite.

The book includes an Intervention Guide for when kids bite and a puppet show script that are priceless. Poelle says her approach usually stops biting within two weeks, and based on my own experience, I would bet that's a good estimate.

The Bullying Antidote: Superpower Your Kids for Life by Dr. Louise Hart & Kristen Caven

The National Institute of Health reports that 15% of students in the US miss school every day because they're afraid of being intimidated or even attacked by other students. Clearly, something is very wrong with a culture that creates such stressful, dangerous conditions for kids and teens. But what is it about our culture that has given rise to such pervasive bullying?

Hart and Caven's comprehensive book acknowledges societal pressures, but suggests that it's our culture's child-raising practices that too often lay the foundations of bullying. Certainly, they point out, kids who are abused at home are at risk of becoming bullies. But even children who are raised "in good homes" can feel bullied when parents shame them, call them names, spank them, or don't protect them from sibling violence. Kids who feel bullied at home are primed to become victims with their peers, or to become bullies themselves.

Luckily, most of  The Bullying Antidote focuses on solutions. Parents will find pointers to help kids who are being bullied, as well as to help kids who witness bullying, and even to intervene to help their child who is acting like a bully. The last half of the book is essentially a primer on positive parenting, designed to help parents evolve their child-raising to give their child the self-esteem and social skills that are so essential to navigate a complex social world without bullying or being bullied.

The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir by Katrina Kenison

"It is of course, a universal drama- children grow up, they leave home, clocks tick in empty bedrooms, and untouched gallons of milk turn sour in the fridge because no one's there to drink them..."

Katrina Kenison's The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir is for any mother of middle schoolers, teenagers, or older. She will help you see your child, yourself, and your life differently. Kenison's writing is poignant, compassionate, smart. She speaks directly to the soul of every mother.

And if your children are younger, I highly recommend Kenison's earlier book, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry. Chapters with titles like "Grace," "Healing," "Spirit," and "Breathing" offer soothing pictures of a family life that honors patience, imagination, and Sundays without plans. The graceful resulting tapestry shows how peace and simplicity can be savored in a world that constantly pushes us to accomplish more, own more, and do it all as quickly as possible.

In reading each of these books, I could not put them down, and was so sorry when they ended. You won't be sorry you spent time with Kenison. In fact, she'll change how you feel about time, and how you spend it, because she reminds you of what's most important. Her books will touch you deeply, and when you put them down, you'll find yourself inspired to be present with your child in a whole new way.

The Other Baby Book by Megan McGrory Massaro and Miriam Katz

Know anyone who’s expecting? This is your gift for the baby shower!

Although the emphasis is on practical information, The Other Baby Book is at heart a plea for parents to reconnect with their babies and their own deepest wisdom.

This book really is “The Other” Baby Book, because it provides an alternative to the “business as usual” advice about birth and infancy that most books provide. Instead, Massaro and Katz treat us to a breezy, knowledgeable introduction to alternative parenting. Information on birth, breastfeeding, attachment, co-sleeping, vaccination, elimination communication, and baby-led weaning is shared in a supportive way that melts away parental guilt. The book is even environmentally aware, from the diaper decision to avoiding BPAs.

With such a broad scope, the authors don’t get into detail on any one aspect, so this is an introduction; most parents will seek out additional reading to explore any one of these topics deeply. Even here The Other Baby Book comes to the rescue, with a page at the end of each chapter of recommended books on that topic.

Covers all the essentials of parenting in the first year, in a concise, easy to read, friendly style.

What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children by Sarah MacLaughlin

"It's time for your bath, ok?"                                                                     "You're a little terror."

"That was a stupid thing to do."                                                             "Don't talk to strangers."     

"I'm so disappointed in you."                                                                         "What a good girl!"     

"See if you ever get another toy."                                                                     "That didn't hurt."     

"You have to share."                                                                            "You're driving me crazy."     

"You're so bossy."                                                            "Look at me when I'm talking to you." 

If you say any of these things to your child, you may want to grab a copy of Sarah MacLaughlin's What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. This easy to read book is a clear, concise guide for parents as to exactly what's wrong with saying these things. MacLaughlin explains how your child hears these phrases, why they're not helpful, and, most important, what to say instead. While this slim volume doesn't have the space to go in depth into emotional development, it's a useful contribution to your bookshelf -- and has the advantage of fititng into your bag for a quick read when you find yourself with a moment to spare. MacLaughlin also includes a goldmine of references to books for children that help them process emotion, which alone is worth the price of this book.

Yell Less, Love More: How the Orange Rhino Mom Stopped Yelling at Her Kids - and How You Can Too! by Sheila McCraith

If you want to stop yelling at your kids, this is the book for you. There's a reason parents flock to read the Orange Rhino online -- she helps us feel better about ourselves as parents, and when we blow it entirely-- and who doesn't, sometimes? -- she inspires us to dig deep and try again. But as delightful as this book is to read, it isn't just a feel-good book. It's a full-blown program to stop yelling, complete with day by day action steps, revelations, and original, helpful, powerful tips. Yelling is a hard habit to break, and we have to work on ourselves, as well as change how we interact with our children. As you follow this program, you'll be able to feel your brain re-wiring. And in a few months, you'll look back and realize you can't remember the last time you yelled. Well-organized, motivational, funny, supportive, and EFFECTIVE!



My daughter reacts so much better when I empathize and stay patient. And now I get to model that behavior instead of letting my frustration get the better of me.


Reviews of the best parenting books l've found over the years