With so many choices and differing opinions, deciding on a parenting book can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to find the best options for you and your family.
Babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Children are simultaneously happy, sad, confusing, predictable, generous, selfish, gentle, and mean. What should parents do when confronted with such confusing offspring? Parents often feel lost in the face of complex interactions between parent, child, and the environment. Many may seek answers in parenting books.
Parenting books are big business, and there are tens of thousands of titles for sale. But the big question is: do parenting books help?
How effective they are is debatable, especially given the lack of scientific evidence to support their usefulness. Limited research has found that problem-focused self-help books can be helpful to readers – think time management tips or healthy eating tips. And studies have found that independent use of books to improve wellbeing — what psychologists call bibliotherapy — is reasonably effective for addressing stress, anxiety, and depression.
So it makes sense that reading a parenting book could be useful. In terms of quality and utility, however, they are on a continuum.
We are human development scholars; have taught thousands of students about parenting; and write about family, parenting and development throughout life. One of us (Bethany) is a mother to six little ones, while the other (Denise) has two grown children, one of whom is Bethany. We believe parents become critical thinkers and can choose the books that work best for them. Here are five questions to think about when looking for the best parenting book for you.
1. Who wrote it and why?
A good parent doesn’t need a PhD; neither does an author. However, an advanced degree in an area related to parenting helps in understanding and interpreting relevant research.
Another aspect is the experience of the author. Having a kid or a dozen doesn’t make anyone an expert. More education doesn’t necessarily make you better at it. Not having a child does not disqualify someone from being an expert, but it should be considered carefully. We taught parenting classes before having children, and it is fair to say that our own parenting experiences have brought depth, insight, and even grace to what we teach.
The reason someone wrote a parenting book can also be informative. Advice from authors who write about their own parenting out of fear or who have failed parenting should be taken with caution.
Finally, don’t let the celebrity books fool you. Most of these are written by ghostwriters and are primarily used to sell books or build a brand.
2. Is it based on science?
Psychology researcher and parenting expert Laurence Steinberg writes that scientists have studied parenting for over 75 years, and the findings regarding effective parenting are among the most consistent and enduring in the social sciences. If you notice contradictions between parenting books, it’s because “few popular books are based on well-documented science.”
How can you tell if a book is scientifically sound? Find citations, researcher names, sources, and an index. Also, learn the core principles of effective parenting, determined through decades of research and outlined by Steinberg. These include: setting rules, being consistent, being loving, treating children with respect, and avoiding harsh discipline.
If the book you’re considering doesn’t meet these guidelines, reconsider the advice for parents. It’s probably not based on science, but rather on opinions or personal beliefs. Opinions and beliefs have a place, but science is better in this area.
3. Is it interesting to read?
If the book isn’t interesting, you probably won’t finish it, let alone learn from it. Before you take a book home, read the first page and turn to a page in the middle to see if it catches your attention. Try to find books that you can read in small bites, jump around in, and return to in the future.
Avoid books that contain “psychobabble,” pseudo-scientific jargon that has an air of authenticity but isn’t clear. For example, the publisher’s description of the book The Indigo Children: The new children are here states: “The Indigo Child is a child exhibiting a new and unusual set of psychological traits that reveal a behavioral pattern that was previously generally undocumented. This pattern has common but unique factors that require parents and teachers to change their treatment and upbringing to achieve a balance. Ignoring these new patterns means potentially great frustration in the minds of these precious new lives.” Happening.
4. Is it realistic?
Run, don’t walk, from any book that tells you its method always works or that every mistake is yours – or, worse, ignores mistakes.
It’s impossible to give advice for every single parent, child and situation! An effective parenting book values context and complexity, and informs the reader that not all of the answers are in the book. No parent is perfect, but recognizing weaknesses and mistakes leads to growth and improvement, and no child is completely malleable. Even parents who do everything right can have children who become opinionated.
Make sure the book gives you detailed instructions and tasks, and ways to track improvements. In other words, make sure it’s actionable.
Finally, a parenting book should respect parenting instincts.
5. Does it motivate and inspire hope?
Some parenting books offer insights related to general behavior, such as Raising Good People: A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Children. Others provide insights for specific issues, such as Safe Infant Sleep: Expert Answers to Your Sleeping Questions. You will likely be more motivated to read a book that reflects your specific needs and values and gives you hope.
A word of caution though. One study found that parenting books that emphasize strict routines for sleep, feeding, and general infant care can actually make parents feel worse by increasing depression, stress, and doubt. Parenting research does not support overly strict routines, and it is easy to see why most of these parents did not find such books useful.
Remember to trust yourself
When you read a parenting book, the goal is to feel empowered, more confident, more excited, and even relieved. You are not alone, nor are you the only parent with questions.
Psychologist Edward Zigler has described parenthood as “the most challenging and complex of all the tasks of adulthood.”
Yes, parenting can be tough. In your adventures as a parent, you’ll likely need all the resources and tools you can muster. With thoughtful and critical exploration, you can find books that enhance your personal wisdom and intuition to help you raise these delightfully complicated little people.
This article was originally published by The conversation. It is published here with kind permission.
is a senior associate professor at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University. Bodman’s current research interests include cross-cultural comparisons of parent-adolescent relationships; The subject of the dissertation was parent-adolescent relations and academic achievement in Beijing, China. Instructional activities emphasize culture, human development, family relationships and parenting.
Bethany Bustamante Van Vleet
is Senior Lecturer and Director of the Online Graduate Program in Family and Human Development at Sanford School. She has taught at Sanford School since 2007. Teaching focuses on statistics, research methods and human development. Her research interests include measuring race and ethnicity, ethnic self-identification, and power in longitudinal data analysis.