Top 10 Books on Discipline and Parenting
By Hilary Levey Friedman
Vanessa Lapointe, a psychologist and author of the forthcoming Discipline without Damage: How to Get Your Kids to Behave Without Messing Them Up [LifeTree Media], writes, “Of all the workshop requests I receive, discipline is by far the most popular topic. Big people everywhere want to know how to discipline. By ‘big people’ I mean parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, aunties, uncles, caregivers, and any other adult who plays a significant role in the nurturing and growing up of a child.”
Various philosophies, versions, names, and age-targeted suggestions abound when it comes to discipline, especially for toddlers and teens. But one thing pretty much every book about discipline agrees upon is that discipline is not about punishment and is instead about teaching. Most also agree that a style of parenting that experts call “authoritative parenting” appears to work best for many families. The fourth book on this list, 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, defines authoritative parents as those who, “Set high expectations and help children live up to those standards; they enforce high moral standards with loving acceptance. They promote self-control with social responsiveness; they teach children to make responsible choices within firmly established limits.”
This group of books about discipline starts with those targeted at the broadest age range, like 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting, then narrows in on the youngest kids, tweens, and teens. At the end a few books focus on targeted populations and how guidance learned in those arenas can help all parents.
The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance—From Toddlers to Teens by Kim John Payne
Kim John Payne is well-known for his 2010 book Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Earlier this year he released The Soul of Discipline to help parents establish a strong foundation in early childhood that will help kids. Payne claims that in 30 years he has never met a truly disobedient child or teen, but he has met a lot of disoriented ones who react by being difficult. He details three phases of parental involvement that build upon one another: the Governor oversees the early years, the Gardener cultivates flowering of teen years, and the Guide oversees the teen years. He also contextualizes everything, like in Chapter 9 where he details the history of discipline, “Avoiding Discipline Fads.” In addition Payne offers concrete advice to parents (I especially loved the tips on pages 83-86 about how to handle serial interrupters!).
Mindful Discipline: A Loving Approach to Setting Limits & Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Shauna Shapiro and Chris White
Unlike many other books on “discipline,” Mindful Discipline focuses not just on parents and what they can do, but also on what children can do. Shapiro and White emphasize the ways in which self-discipline enables children to learn to guide their own lives, what they call the five essential elements of Mindful Discipline: 1) unconditional love, 2) space, 3) mentorship, 4) healthy boundaries, and 5) mis-takes (this is not a typo, but their term for “missed takes instead of mistakes”). While discipline can help kids learn to be free, Shapiro and White remind is that, “Nature has intended for the parent-child relationship to be a loving hierarchy.” Each chapter ends with a mindfulness awareness practice that will help everyone in a family practice being more mindful.
Elements of Discipline: Nine Principles for Teachers and Parents by Stephen Greenspan
This short, but dense, book written by a Clinical Professor of Psychology near the end of his career is directed at all adult caregivers, so not just kin caregivers but also teachers. One of the strengths of this volume is its clear explanation of the history of discipline philosophies and its description of the three major psychological approaches when it comes to discipline—affective, behavioral, and cognitive. Greenspan places a lot of emphasis on socioemotional development and social competence, so it is no surprise that he thinks the three long-term outcomes of effective discipline include happiness, boldness, and niceness. This can be accomplished through warmth, tolerance, and influence, good advice for other pursuits throughout our lifetimes and not just while parenting growing youngsters.
8 Keys to Old School Parenting: For Modern-Day Families by Michael Mascolo
Mascolo focuses on “old school parenting,” but what exactly is that? To him it’s parenting techniques that have stood the test of time. One thing that has definitely been dropped is violence, but the sense of authority remains. Mascolo, also a psychology professor, begins 9 Keys to Old School Parenting by articulating the parenting attitude that informs the whole book: “I am your parent. I’m not your friend, your playmate, your maid, or your chauffeur. You are not my equal. I am responsible for your safety and development. I am here to teach you how to be successful in the world.” Not surprisingly the first key is to value your parental authority, but others include “cultivate your child’s character,” “solve problems,” and “foster emotional development,” and you definitely can’t go wrong there.
Discipline with Love & Limits: Calm, Practical Solutions to the 43 Most Common Childhood Behavior Problems by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara Unell
About 30 years ago Wyckoff and Unell published a book called Discipline without Shouting or Spanking. In the intervening years the book’s title and content have gone the way of more positive discipline, so now we focus on love and limits and do not even mention spanking. The authors position the book as one you will pick up when a problem arises, much like many books out there for health issues like rashes or sore throats. You can read the first 30 pages or so to set the scene, but then turn to the “problems” as they arise, like “plane travel stress” or “sibling rivalry.” Each problem section briefly defines the problem, gives advice to try to prevent the problem, and what to do (and what not to do) to solve the problem. The sections close with a case history, which are not always helpful. Overall this is a good little resource to keep on your shelf.
Nelsen, Jane, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy. Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, From Infant to Toddler—Laying the Foundation for Raising a Capable, Confident Child by Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy
Back in the Winter 2015 print issue of Brain, Child I wrote about this book in a round-up of how to deal with the emotional storm of toddlerhood. Earlier editions or Nelsen et al’s work helped establish the positive discipline mentioned above that we know today. Different “positive discipline” books exist for different age groups and scenarios, but it’s always good to start at the beginning. Some of my favorite parenting advice that I have found to be so true is in this book: “No parenting tool works all the time. Be sure to have more than just time-out in your toolbox… There is never one tool—or three, or even ten—that is effective for every situation for every child.”
How to Unspoil Your Child Fast: A Speedy, Complete Guide to Contented Children and Happy Parents by Richard Bromfield
In this short book with lots of punchy advice, Bromfield lays out a 7-day plan to unspoil children aged 2-12. While not a discipline book in name, it is about discipline because spoiled children often do not listen or respect their parents. Bromfield focuses on natural consequences and less on concrete activities parents can do themselves or with children to change their behavior. Each chapter starts with an interesting quote that will speak to parents, making the book an easy one to digest in small doses. The advice is more general, but it is worthwhile, like suggesting parents study actions of those who have more control over your child that you do, like teachers.
1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas Phelan
Now in its 6th edition with over 1.6 million copies sold, 1-2-3 Magic is certainly doing something right! In February 2016 the newest edition will be released, which continues to focus on what clinical psychologist Phelan denotes are the three jobs of parenthood: controlling obnoxious behavior, encouraging good behavior, and strengthening relationships with children. Previous edition have focused on start and stop behaviors and utilizing timers when raising kids, and presumably the newest edition will suggest using cell phone timers and not just egg timers. Phelan also provides simple, but effective, suggestions to parents, such as: agree to keep your child’s bedroom door closed so you won’t see the mess inside and nag, but in exchange your child has to pick it up once per week. Seems like everyone ends up happier when following advice in 1-2-3 Magic.
10 Days to a Less Defiant Child: The Breakthrough Program for Overcoming Your Child’s Difficult Behavior by Jeffrey Bernstein
Bernstein says that in the past 25 years he has worked with over 2000 families who have defiant children. What is a defiant child? It is one who is quick to anger, overly dramatic, and almost constantly resistant to doing what is asked. A defiant child is different from a disobedient child, but s/he is also different from a child who has conduct disorder, destroying property or physically attacking animals or people (which would require being seen in person by a specialist). Targeted at ages 4-18, Bernstein suggests reading a chapter per day over the ten-day period. First published in 2006 and now in its second edition the book advises parents to think you are on a reality show, someone is always watching, so be careful of what you say and how you say it to model good behavior and emotional processing.
Parenting Children with Health Issues and Special Needs by Foster Cline and Lisa Greene
The first book on this year’s Top Ten Books for Parenting Children with Disabilities, this slim volume provides needed advice for all parents, regardless of their children’s needs. It reminds parents that to effectively communicate and influence their children they should strive to be consultants and not drill sergeants. And the best piece of advice for all of these situations, as Cline and Greene so succinctly state, “I love you too much to argue.”
Hilary Levey Friedman is Brain, Child’s Book Review Editor.