I’m not the biggest believer in parenting books. Maybe I should be…but I often find a lot of them repetitive or overwhelming and usually I have good intentions, but don’t get around to reading them. Oh and do I need to add that most of them conflict each other too?
But there have been a few that I’ve read and not only enjoyed, but bookmarked and earmarked for good, salient pieces of advice, especially as we entered into some of the transitional phases of toddlerhood, and adjusting to having a new sibling. Turns out that sometimes a little advice can be handy. And simply reading an actual book, if nothing else, makes me sit down and actually reflect on what I’m doing as a parent and whether I want be doing it that way. It’s almost as if taking the time to read something is also giving me the time to think and process a bit without the distraction of my phone or a bazillion internet pages. In the end, parenting really comes down to how you practice, not what you read. But each of these books has given me something helpful to practice with. Sharing my list here today but always all ears for any other good recommendations out there – I could definitely use more practice!
1. Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year : I loved having this guide as a go-to for when I thought something might be wrong, or when I had questions about development. Mayo Clinic also has a similar guide for pregnancy as well (Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy) and both were helpful when you have questions but are afraid to ask “the internet”. Just straightforward advice from straightforward medical authorities that help you feel like you know what’s going on without always rushing towards the worst. It doesn’t replace a doctor of course, but it’s a handy reference, especially if you often live far away from home and have language or cultural barriers with – this is a handy first place to check out whatever problem you think you might be having.
2. The Happiest Baby on the Block : If you only read one baby book, this one has to be it. Swaddling, shushing, rocking….this will give you the whole lowdown on what to do those first couple of months as a parent when your biggest fear is breaking the baby. Even though our oldest is now four, and this book is really meant for “the fourth trimester”, I find that I still will use some the same concepts to console our diplo-tot, and to remind myself that kids are really just trying to make sense of the world around them. The author also did companion books on sleeping
but I didn’t find them to be quite as helpful as this first one, which is truly worth its weight in gold.
3. Bright from the Start : This is one to pick up once your child hits six months old, and you start wondering whether you’re doing enough to get them into the right college for a successful future. And that’s because this book will reassure you, based on science, that great intelligence and skills later in life don’t have to come from an overload of baby genius regimens (although there are some exercises in the book), but rather from making the most of the time you have with your child, regardless of whether you’re a working parent or not, from connecting with them, from encouraging them to explore and from just holding them. A lot of how kids end up “performing” so to speak, ends up being tied to whether or not they feel secure, not on how many play groups you exhausted yourself shuttling them around to. I think most parents will breathe a sigh of relief after reading this one.
4. Jo Frost’s Toddler Rules : Reached for this one when the tantrums started, and with some skepticism I might add (as I approach anyone who was “seen on TV”). But this writing style is great – and again, reassuring. When you’re in the throws of receiving a toddler tantrum, it’s easy to forget that probably 80% of them we can prevent as parents if we make sure that our littles are sleeping… and eating…and getting some attention from us. The rest are the ones to work through, but this was helpful in just getting back to basics when we were caught by surprise.
: Once we got our bearings on the above, I found that this book was helpful in really understanding how behavior is directed by brain development. (the authors also wrote The Whole-Brain Child as an overall primer on childrens’ developing brains). It made me realize sometimes I had to realign my expectations for someone who was still really just learning how to connect behavior and outcomes. It’s not really necessary to read both books, but No-Drama Discipline helps you connect some of the latest findings to little changes you can make in your own behavior to help smooth the way, so that you don’t exhaust yourself with actions that are effortless. Instead you can focus on things that really teach your child coping and empathy and process for later in life. Also, the best part of this book is the reassurance that as your child’s brain develops, you’ll win some certainly, but even if you do everything right, you’ll lose some. And that doesn’t make us bad parents – though we might certainly feel that way…it just makes just parents.
6. The Happy Sleeper : When our first child was born, she slept through the night like a champ after a few months. Then we moved back to the US from Europe and everything fell apart…and still can fall apart sometimes. I read this one on Oh Joy’s recommendation, and this book is great. I previously read a few sleeping books and none really had anything workable to actually solve the problem in my opinion, or they advocated letting your child scream it out…The only one from that set I enjoyed was The No-Cry Sleep Solution because it helps assure you that most people are dealing with a sleep issue at some point or other and as long as everyone is actually getting enough sleep, then just do what works for you. The only problem was that there was no actual no-cry solution in the book (from what I recall). Happy Sleeper though seems to combine best of all worlds with reassurance and actually helpful strategies based on the child’s age and development. They are routines but not overly right. We saw a lot of improvement with the first one, and seem to be in a good spot much sooner with our second.
7. Free to Learn : For some reason, as our babies turn into tots the pressure comes back to constantly be doing more for our kids – lessons, groups, mozart in mandarin camps… I feel it more and more and I bet I would really feel it if we were back in the US. But this book helps reinforce that kids really learn to thrive when they have time to play and time to work things out for themselves. Giving them some of those pockets of unstructured time, which are increasingly harder and harder to come by, aren’t just fun for them, they’re useful in the long run and are tied to skills you need later in life. For awhile, I worried about the lack of structure when we sent our daughter here to forest school, but this helped me see those long bouts without structure as a good thing for her in the long run.
8. Parenting from the Inside Out : At some point, although it’s obvious, you realize that parenting is a two way relationship. Sometimes we focus – or these books focus – so much on our child and why they’re doing what they’re doing, that we forget to ask ourselves why we are doing what we’re doing as parents, why our reactions are what they are and where that might be coming from. So this is one for you, parents. We can’t always control what our children choose to do, but we can certainly try to figure out what to learn from our own responses.
9. Your Baby in Pictures: Okay, so this one isn’t a parenting advice book per se, but I’m closing the list out with this one since I constantly go back to it and have given probably over 15 copies of it away. I just love this book for the list of concise photos it presents to capture across the first year (and the accompanying volumes for Your Child
and Your Family follow a similar concept). Each of the photos on the list has a “recipe” for it, so if you’ve ever wondered how to actually make use of the buttons on your camera, this will get you there without inundating you with technical details. It walks the line between making sure you get the really formative shots while mitigating the pressure to document every single footstep of your child. For your first, it helps you narrow down to the big things so that your child doesn’t think a camera is permanently attached to your face; and for subsequent children, it helps remind you to get out the camera and make sure you have the key shots for them too. It helps me bring together both hobby and family in a fun way.