These three books didn’t just teach me something new, they lifted me up and set me down in a new place that made me see everything differently, including myself.
I can’t claim that they’re any better than the ones you’ve read because transformation happens not just when new information comes, but when our minds and bodies are ready to receive it.
There are many great parenting books that would make my recommended reading list but due to timing (their own release date and/or my own readiness to receive their messages), they didn’t rock my world in the same way that these three books did.
You can find a full (well, nearly) list of my parenting book recommendations here. (I’ve read many more — if you don’t see it on this list and you’d like my opinion about a book you’ve read or are considering reading, just ask!)
3 parenting books that changed my life (for the better)
1. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish
If you are only willing to read one parenting book, let it be this one.
This was the first parenting book that I remember reading, so for that reason alone it made an impact. But more than that, it helped me recognize that my behavior invites behavior.
The way I speak and listen to my children has a profound impact on the way my children speak and listen to (and cooperate with) me.
How can I expect my children to speak respectfully to me when I yell, make demands, threaten, or demean them? Or when I let them walk all over me? It all seems so obvious now but at the time it was a major epiphany. (Read more about how parents unwittingly invite disrespectful behavior here.)
The interactive nature (with scripts, cartoon dialogue, worksheets, space for reflection) helped the tools and concepts sink in so that when it came time to respond to my child in a heated moment, I’d already had some practice.
2. The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross Greene
A therapist recommended this book to us when our child was struggling at school. Its author asserts that children who are “misbehaving” in school or at home are not usually trying to make life hard for us; instead, they are often simply lacking skills.
Children naturally want to do well, stay connected, and be successful, but if they’re not, it’s because something is getting in their way — something’s making it harder for them.
When I chose to see my child as one who wanted to behave but something was getting in their way, my fear, irritation, and feelings of powerlessness shifted to curiosity and wondering about what the heck was getting in the way.
My role immediately changed from a behavior manager to a problem-solver, detective, coach, and teacher — so much more empowering! (Watch a short video of Ross Greene explaining his philosophy here.)
Instead of asking myself, “what can I do to my child to get them to behave?” I began asking, “how can I help my child show up as the person they already want to be?” Can you feel the difference?
Greene’s mantra, “kids do well if they can” guided me to look beyond the behavior (e.g., not turning in homework) and search for the skills my child needed to develop (e.g., organization & expressive communication).
When paired with Jane Nelsen’s mantra from Positive Discipline, “kids do better when they feel better,” I was able to see my child as one who needed encouragement and support rather than carrots and sticks. (Read more + download a handy graphic about this paradigm shift here.)
By the way, Greene’s methods and philosophy work well for all kids, not just explosive ones.
3. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine
In this 2012 book, child therapist Madeline Levine cites rising rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide (which have only gotten worse) and attributes them in no small part to our “high-stakes, high-pressure culture” where parents, college admissions teams, and others send the message that unless you get into a highly-competitive, top-tier college, you’re kind of doomed.
The recent scandal involving college counselor, Rick Singer, offers a perfect example of how this pressure can really mess with our minds. (Have you seen the Netflix documentary about this scandal? It was really good.)
To combat the pressure, Levine encourages parents and children to seek “authentic success” which she defines as “‘being the best me I can be’ not simply in isolation, but as part of a community, and it always includes a component of meaningful contribution and connection with others.”
Many years ago, I heard my son crying while doing homework. When I asked what was wrong, he looked up and answered, “Do I have to go to college?” This little guy was already feeling the pressure…in 5th grade!
When I discovered Levine’s book a few years later it immediately spoke to me. I’d just completed my life coaching coursework and certification in Positive Discipline — two experiences that launched me into an entirely new career and forced me to re-define my own measures of success. (Read my story about how I became a coach here.)
As a life coach, I’d almost certainly (at least in the near term) make less money than I did as a marketing director. I’d lose my corporate status (and identity). I’d no longer receive regular ego-boosting performance reviews or bonuses to confirm my “success.”
And yet, while working toward coaching certification, I felt happier, more energized, and had a much greater sense of purpose. Levine helped me recognize that these feelings might actually indicate “authentic success.”
The term resonated so strongly that it became my business tagline: “Coaching for authentic success in work and life.” It’s my driving force and what I strive to offer all of my clients and class participants.
Levine’s book presents seven coping skills to protect a child’s well-being and a healthy sense of self. It also includes exercises to help parents clarify their own values and then actually live and model them for children.
Download my version of her values exercise here.
4. The 4th book on my list would be Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen
The Positive Discipline philosophy definitely changed my life (I now teach Positive Discipline classes regularly!) but they were the classes more than the book that spurred the change.
Positive Discipline classes are fun, interactive, experiential, and sink in at a much deeper level than the book (or any book) could.
I signed up for a Positive Discipline class to beef up my parenting skills, but after attending, I felt compelled to spread the word by making Positive Discipline a part of my professional practice.
My Parenting series, Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids: From Conflict and Chaos to Cooperation and Calm is based on Positive Discipline and is offered regularly in Oakland as well as via a Virtual (synchronous) classroom. Learn more about the parenting series here!
What are your favorite parenting books and why? Please let me know here in the comments section!
P.S. My favorite books in the Positive Discipline series are: a) Positive Discipline A to Z — a guide for what to do with various misbehaviors…alphabetized! And b) Positive Discipline for Teens.
P.P.S. If you missed it before, find a recommended reading list for parents here.
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