5 Simple Strategies From Parenting Books That Actually Work

by Amy B. Chesler
Mother gives her daughter a piggyback ride outdoors
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

Parenthood is both marvelous and occasionally demoralizing. It’s eye-opening, heartwarming, and sometimes even bone-chilling, and nothing can really prepare you for it properly. You’re knee-deep in diapers then suddenly planning a Sweet 16, and there’s no foolproof manual or perfect piece of advice to carry you through the process.

We can only do our best with the tools we have, and hope it’s enough for our children to thrive. That’s one of the hardest things about parenting in and of itself: how do we know what’s right or wrong for our children? What’s sound advice, and what’s just half-baked chatter? In order to offer parents a little clarity, we’ve drafted a list of 5 strategies from parenting books that actually work.

1. It’s a common misconception that the word “discipline” means to punish, but in actuality, it means “to teach.” In this vein, Dr. Kim John Payne’s Soul of Discipline attempts to show parents how to cultivate respectful, functional eventual-adults. Payne’s book offers actionable steps for managing their children’s behavior with clear boundaries and communication. One strategy Payne discusses is reducing the overwhelming amount of choices children are presented with each day, with the parent or guardian retaining more of that control. In other words, for example, refrain from asking, “What do you want for dinner?” and instead offer, “Would you like dumpling soup or chicken drumsticks for dinner?” This gives kiddos the illusion of control, without making it overwhelming.

2. Speaking of dinner, another rule we’ve undoubtedly all heard is to “trust your gut.” Dr. William Sears was the first parenting expert to really tout, “heal your gut!” Dr. Sears has been writing parenting books since 1982, and although practices have changed drastically over the years, one thing remains certain: Mental health is surely affected by our physical health. Dr. Bill took it one step further when he proposed that our gut health directly affects our brain health; since then, numerous studies have proven him to be correct. Which, of course, begs us to recognize that our children’s behavior can be directly influenced by their diets. In a nutshell, advocating for our children to have a balanced, nutritious diet advocates for their overall health, too. Which is always a great, actionable step.

3. Simplicity Parenting is another gem written by Dr. Payne. In this one, he not only focuses on keeping our role simple as a confidante and safety zone for our children, but also focuses on keeping our kids’ emotions organically in-check. One tactic that Dr. Payne highlights throughout Simplicity Parenting is keeping kids’ schedules as simple and/or light as possible. Society’s current over-scheduling and over-planning for our kids has a tendency to bog us down, causing families to be exhausted and anxiety-ridden. Dr. Payne calls parents to do several things to re-center their families, and one of them really speaks to me: avoid over-scheduling yourself. Our kids don’t need to participate in every sport or make every party. Payne suggests we select activities that keep our kiddos engaged and growing; everything else is “optional.”

4. Speaking of options, a much-talked about book that highlights different parental perspectives or choices is Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. Druckerman wrote the book as an American mother rearing her children in France; in it she reveals the secrets of French mothers that seem to solve common problems we often complain about here in the States, like infantile sleep issues and getting kids to eat their vegetables. While the book has sparked many debates, it shares several concrete tactics that really can aid any parent that may need help, especially those of bebes. Like “bebe talk”: Druckerman explains that in France, people do not go “goo goo,” “gah gah” over infants. They speak to little ones like other humans from the moment they’re born, because we all know the bebes are always listening. In other words, start using manners (i.e. “please” and “thank you”) the moment you meet your child, and the moment they can talk, they’re more likely to lead with polite kindness, too. Another French tactic Druckerman discusses is that there are no “kid foods.” French schools serve a balanced menu, as do restaurants. In other words, forgo “kid options,” and kids won’t have any issue off of the “adult menu.” So simple, yet so helpful.

5. Last but not least, Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields is another gem of a guide that hopes to engage parents in “breaking the cycle of reactive parenting, and raising kind, confident kids.” Which sounds nearly impossible, right? Because one of the hardest things we’ll ever have to accomplish is nurturing the wounded parts of ourselves, while raising kiddos using a different approach. Clarke-Fields attempts to help us do just that: refresh our parenting approach, and thus our future relationships with our kids. In her book, she shares several tactics to become a “more mindful mama.” And although her suggestions are not “quick fixes” for external problems, they are transformative and brilliant.

In essence, the book argues there are two major facets of parenting that affect our approach most. Clarke-Fields claims that to be the most mindful, centered, and present parent we can be, we have to dig deep and “unhook” ourselves from negative thoughts, manage our triggers, and practice self-compassion. Externally, we also have to manage our communication in a way that is both kind and appropriate. And I know–easier said than done. But Clarke-Fields argues that the more inner work we do to heal our pasts, the more we can respond to our children from the present. She also claims that one of the simplest tactics to be mindful and present is to meditate. Meditation builds “the muscle to calm or be able to be less reactive… This is a muscle” you have to build, “just like you’re not going to [learn] about tennis and then go out and play the world grand slam.” She proves breathing deeply and exercising emotional control begins with a single step, turns into several more, then eventually becomes habitual.

Under most general circumstances, these tactics really do work. We just never said they’d be easy, okay?