What are the best parenting books?
There are tens of thousands of parenting books, but most are based on opinion and parenting philosophy. We’ve read many of these books, and while some are entertaining, most failed to convincingly answer the important questions we had about raising children.
With that in mind, here are the best parenting books we’ve found, which you might also call the smartest, most informative, modern parenting books. Each of them is thoroughly researched and cited, and offers essential lessons that are supported by solid evidence.
We’ll update this list consistently as we read more and new books come out. The date at the top of this article reflects the date we last updated this list.
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool
Their description: “Armed with the data, Oster finds that the conventional wisdom doesn’t always hold up. She debunks myths around breastfeeding (not a panacea), sleep training (not so bad!), potty training (wait until they’re ready or possibly bribe with M&Ms), language acquisition (early talkers aren’t necessarily geniuses), and many other topics. She also shows parents how to think through freighted questions like if and how to go back to work, how to think about toddler discipline, and how to have a relationship and parent at the same time.
“Economics is the science of decision-making, and Cribsheet is a thinking parent’s guide to the chaos and frequent misinformation of the early years. Emily Oster is a trained expert—and mom of two—who can empower us to make better, less fraught decisions—and stay sane in the years before preschool.”
Our description: The key part of the title to us is “more relaxed.” The popular conception of parents who read books like these, and browse websites like ours, worry far too much, but we think Cribsheet does a great job of highlighting misinformation just creates unnecessary stress. This book is as good as any at addressing the most controversial child-rearing issues with clarity.
The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child’s First Four Years
Their description: “The ultimate resource for today’s science-minded generation, The Informed Parent was written for readers who prefer facts to “friendly advice,” and who prefer to make up their own minds, based on the latest findings as well as their own personal preferences.”
Our description: This book is structured like many books out there, in the sense that it’s a step-by-step guide through the beginning of pregnancy through the early years of childhood, but it’s better supported by genuine research and is therefore far more trustworthy. Each topic it covers looks at scientific research on the matter, but it does so in a way that’s easy to understand and practical.
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, 6th Edition: Birth to Age 5
Their description: “This essential resource from the most respected organization on child health is the one guide pediatricians routinely recommend and parents can safely trust, covering everything from preparing for childbirth to toilet training to nurturing your child’s self-esteem. Whether it’s resolving common childhood health problems or detailed instructions for coping with emergency medical situations, this new and revised edition of Caring for Your Baby and Young Child has everything you need.”
Our description: This is essentially an encyclopedia for the first five years of parenthood. That would seem like a really boring read, but it’s actually pretty readable. And while you can certainly get all these same answers online today, it’s helpful to have a complete, thorough guide that walks through raising a child step-by-step, because it answers questions new parents wouldn’t even know they should be asking.
Parenting, Inc.: How the Billion-Dollar Baby Business Has Changed the Way We Raise Our Children
Their description: “[Author Pamela Paul] shows how the parenting industry has persuaded parents that they cannot trust their children’s health, happiness, and success to themselves. She offers a behind-the-scenes look at the baby business so that any parent can decode the claims ― and discover shockingly unuseful products and surprisingly effective services. Paul’s book leads the way for every parent who wants to escape the spiral of fear, guilt, competition, and consumption that characterizes modern American parenthood.”
Our description: This is a sweeping overview of all the strategies businesses take to market their products to parents, from pregnancy throughout childhood. It doesn’t necessarily advise what parents should and shouldn’t buy, but arms parents with understanding about the motivations behind marketing messages, especially that many of the claims companies make about their products aren’t supported by evidence.
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
Their description: “Meticulously researched yet imbued with emotional intelligence, All Joy and No Fun makes us reconsider some of our culture’s most basic beliefs about parenthood, all while illuminating the profound ways children deepen and add purpose to our lives.”
Our description: Unique in that it addresses many of the questions parents have about how they’re affected by raising children, this book can help parents anticipate and better deal with the stresses of parenting. By thoroughly citing other research and writing on the topic, it shows that many parenting stressors are common, allowing parents to plan ahead and understand the emotions they encounter.
NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
Their description: “With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, the authors demonstrate that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring–because key twists in the science have been overlooked.”
Our description: One of the testimonials on the book cover calls it “The Freakonomics of child rearing,” and we completely agree. Each chapter tackles a complex topic and reveals a convincing truth about a different aspect of child development that conventional wisdom largely gets wrong. More than maybe any other book we’ve found, this one proves that “common sense” is often completely wrong when it comes to raising children, and that parents are wise to seek out information in smart books like these.
Other smart books for thinking parents
There are many books that aren’t labeled as parenting books, per se, but have chapters focused on lessons for parents that are based on rigorous research. Below are some such books we’d recommend.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Their description: “After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.”
Our description: The core concept of the book is that people are most successful when they focus on continually improving and learning from their experiences, rather than thinking that their abilities and qualities can’t be changed. As also detailed in “Nurture Shock,” many common phrases parents instinctively use to praise their children actually backfire by fostering the mindset that people’s abilities are static. Chapter 7 focuses on how parents, teachers and coaches can talk to children in a way that best conveys encouraging messages. While subsequent research suggests that Dweck exaggerated the degree to which these different mindsets make a difference for all kids, we believe this is still generally useful for parents trying to understand how they should speak to their children.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Their description: “Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent.”
Our description: This best-seller is unlike many books on creativity because instead of focusing on how to be more creative, it offers strategies for making creative ideas happen. Chapter 6 looks at research into the childhood influences that lead to creative people, such as birth order and role models, and how parents, siblings and mentors can nurture creativity.
I recently wrote a list of my top 5 favourite science-based books about baby’s first year on Shepherd here: https://shepherd.com/best-books/science-based-for-raising-a-baby.
The article also includes a description of my own book, Baby Ecology.