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9 Best Science-Based Parenting Books – Top Picks 2021

Best Parenting Books in 2021

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs in the world. Unfortunately babies and parenthood don’t come with manuals. A lot of us moms (and dads) haven’t had any training or classes in raising children. It’s not something we’re very well prepared for.

I am asked all the time for recommendations on the best parenting books.

With the overwhelming amount of parenting books, advice from friends and families, and blogs on the Internet, it is hard to sift through and find the real good ones.

As with everything at Parenting for Brain, we look for the top parenting books that are science-based to help parents be the best parents they want to be. Here are our picks on this year’s top rated parenting books. All the books on this list are evidence-based and backed by science.

Check out this step-by-step guide to calming tantrums

Calm the Tantrums ebook
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1. Parenting from the Inside Out

By Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell

Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist and professor at UCLA School of Medicine, has written a number of popular science-based parenting books. Parenting from the Inside Out is one of his most well-known work.

This book explains why most parents tend to parent the way they were raised. Our childhood affects how we parent no matter how much we want to deny the links. When nothing seems to work, when your child is not responding to any conventional methods, it’s time for parents to look inward.

One thing we can do to become better parents is to examine our childhood and family history to gain better self-understanding. Even for those who have had a happy childhood, they may still have unresolved issues that prevent them from being the best parents they can be.

This book draws on findings in neurological development and Bowlby and Ainsworth’s Attachment Theory research to help parents make sense of their life stories. Age-appropriate strategies are given that not only helps parents deal with day-to-day struggles, but also demonstrates how “brain integration” can help children grow and thrive.

This book also rightfully points out the importance of parent-child relationships and how a good relationship can enhance the parenting experience.

2. Positive Discipline A-Z

By Jane Nelsen, Lynn Lott and H. Stephen Glenn

Positive Discipline A-Z is full of practical advice for new parents, from potty training to dealing with power struggles. Its easy-to-read format is convenient for busy or working parents who are constantly on the go.

Positive discipline is a disciplinary principle based on mutual respect and positive guidance. It focuses on creating learning opportunities (for the future) instead of punishing mistakes (of the past).

Jane Nelsen wrote a series of authoritative parenting books on this topic, each caters to a slightly different age group or audience but use a similar approach, e.g. First Three Years, Preschoolers, Teenagers, Teacher’s Guide, Parenting Tool Cards, etc.

My recommendation is to start with this one or the original Positive Discipline, and then supplement with the ones for individual age groups if needed.

3. The Whole-Brain Child

By Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

The “Whole Brain Child” approach is about integrating different parts of the brain to help our children live balanced, creative and meaningful lives. In this book, Daniel Siegel, psychiatrist and professor at UCLA School of Medicine, explains in a creative and yet simple way how the different regions in our brains affect our thinking and emotion in daily lives.

It presents 12 strategies (steps) to integrate our upper brain (decision making) and lower brain (reactive), as well as our left brain (logical) and right brain (emotional) to improve our emotional intelligence. There are some good real life examples to help drive home the points.

4. The Science of Parenting

By Margot Sunderland

If you are going to get only one parenting book, this is the one I would recommend you to get. Understanding the science of brain development and physiology is paramount in understanding their behavior and what we can do to enhance their growth.

This book shows parents how to use science to parent more effectively. It dispels myths with solid scientific facts. It doesn’t rely on unproven conventional wisdom or “theories” based on any particular “expert”.

When I first read this book, I was very surprised by how many things scientists already knew about brain development and children’s behavior. And yet as a mother, I was still given advice and tips based on opinions that only created results parents want without regard to their impacts on our children’s well being.

This is a must-read for every parent.

For more help on calming tantrums, check out this step-by-step guide

Calm the Tantrums ebook

5. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

By Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz

This may seem like an odd one to appear on a parenting book list, but this is one of my favorite parenting books in understanding brain development and how childhood traumas can be easily caused by parents or even mental health professionals unknowingly.

World-renowned child psychiatrist, Dr. Bruce Perry, presents a series of heartbreaking stories of children severely damaged in their upbringing and how love and social support helped heal these wounds.

Although the stories are extreme circumstances most of us will not put our children in, they are still very educational as the neuro-development (brain development) is explained in an easy-to-understand fashion.

Everyone, including parents, educator and mental health professionals, will learn a thing or two from it.

6. Turning Tantrums Into Triumphs

By Pamela Li

This book became #1 Amazon Best Seller within days of publishing.

Written with busy parents in mind, this book is a short read. It is one of the best parenting books for toddlers in 2021, if I may say so.

It is packed with scientific information that can help parents calm toddler tantrums fast, especially during the terrible twos tantrums or meltdowns.

7. The Self-Driven Child

By William Stixrud and Ned Johnson

The Self-Driven Child by clinical psychologist, William Stixrud, and educator, Ned Johnson, is absolutely the best evidence-based book on child motivation for a good reason.

This book accurately identifies the most common things that causes the lack of motivation in children, and proper solution. It helps parents move from being their child’s manager to being their consultant.

The foundation for the advice is a clear understanding of the brain structure and development based on neuroscience and psychology. Each chapter ends with a summary and strategies that encourage parents to apply the information in a practical way. Parents are given ideas and best conditions to set their kids up for success.

This is a must-read for every parent who wants to raise successful and self-motivated kids.

8. The Explosive Child

By Ross W. Greene

Why are some children calm and laid-back while others are challenging and difficult to calm?

The Explosive Child book defines kids with challenging behavior as “inflexible-explosive”. Kids who are seemingly explosive are stuck with inflexibility that prevents them from switching their mindset from one settings to the next. These children also have problem self-regulating. As a result, they easily explode when faced with transitions.

This book introduces practical strategies helping children deal with their low flexibility and a low tolerance for frustration. Many parents with Oppositional Defiance Disorder kids find it a useful resource.

One point I disagree with though is that the author believes these strategies are ways to keep inflexible-explosive kids at bay to create peace at home. But I believe the strategies apply to every child because they are (should be) based on respect for kids, not just those who are bold enough to tell us they can’t tolerate over-restrictive control from parents.

9. Beyond Behaviors

By Mona Delahooke

This is another great book that helps parents of ODD and ADHD kids.

Delahooke integrates Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory with information of sensory systems and neuro-science to help parents deal with challenging behavior. Behaviorally challenged kids generally have an overactive fight-or-flight response to daily stressors. Their high-strung nervous system keeps their brains from developing on par with their peers and causes misbehavior.

The parental strategy reframes challenging kid “problems” and helps teachers and parents shift paradigm away from reward and punishment to empathy and compassion. It’s a refreshingly compassionate and brain-based idea.

Beyond Behaviors lays out the importance of building an environment of safety, respecting individual diversity, and understanding children’s sensory and nervous systems. It also provides a roadmap for adults to learn coping skills and regulate their emotions. Only when parents can provide an emotionally healthy, loving and kind environment will they be able to help their kids develop strong emotional regulation.

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