How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Autonomy: Parenting Book Roundup

This post contains Amazon affiliate links for research purposes. Your library probably has these books and you should check there first!

I have come to believe that the best way to parent “wrong” is to try to parent some way that is not natural to you and your kids. Personally, for the first few years there, I really struggled with finding my way to the kind of parent I wanted to be. I lacked confidence so much that I never wanted to parent in front of an audience.

Time passed, I got better at it. Being, well, me, books were naturally part of how I found my feet. I read plenty that were useless or just didn’t suit me, but here are some of the best.

Alyson Schafer, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and Ain’t Misbehavin’

I actually read the later book first, but it mostly works either way. Schafer is an Adlerian psychologist who urges parents to practice “democratic parenting,” which essentially consists of treating your children like people. You don’t use rewards or punishments, because those don’t work anyway, and you don’t engage in power struggles with your child. Instead, you always offer your child a choice, and you do it evenly, with no drama or vindictiveness. You definitely don’t use shame. If your child doesn’t brush his teeth, you might explain that means he is choosing not to have sweets, since sweets are bad for your teeth, but you don’t go on and on about how his teeth are going to fall out of his head. And when it’s lunch time and he can’t have jelly on his sandwich, you remind him of the reason calmly, but not smugly. You shouldn’t enjoy it.

This is the author that has helped me the most, hands-down. For instance, we had meltdowns every time we turned off the television until I started asking the kids, “Do you want to turn off the TV, or should I?” (Fortunately, turning off the TV is a three-remote process, so I have plenty of buttons for both of them.) I taught them to push the right buttons, so now they get to practice a fun skill every time we turn off the TV, and it has cut down on meltdowns dramatically.

More authoritative parenting books like 1-2-3 Magic and Parenting With Love And Logic weren’t that helpful for me. Trying to give time-outs just made us all agitated; I would start counting or warning or whatever and then not want to follow through. While I still have to find a way to follow through, at least it’s not via trying to get a kid to stay on the naughty step. Some people swear by them; they just weren’t for me.

Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Not actually a parenting book, but pairs nicely with Alyson Schafer. Just like sticker charts won’t really motivate your kid to go potty, paying people to solve a problem won’t inspire creativity. The authors agree that the research shows people are more strongly motivated by internal forces, like the desire for autonomy, belonging, and a sense of purpose.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Also not actually a parenting book, but the chapter on communication (“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”) is crucial for learning to relate to people of any age, even toddlers, with empathy. This one also helped with two areas I’m still struggling with: constantly operating in crisis mode, and complaining instead of solving.

The Gesell Institute, Your [X]-Year-Old series.

These books are old now, but don’t discount them–they’re still in print for a reason. They are often laugh-out-loud funny and bursting with positivity even about the most trying ages and behaviors. Besides which, they are a fascinating glimpse into a time when parenting expectations were a touch more reasonable. 
Do you find parenting books helpful or useless? What are your favorites?

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

One response to “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Autonomy: Parenting Book Roundup”

  1. Sandy Butterfield says :

    Will definitely try these books, thanks for the article!

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