My Top 3 Parenting Books

I’m a research nerd. When I was expecting my oldest, I read a ton about pregnancy and birth to help manage my expectations of that process. But pregnancy is a much shorter time period than parenthood, and most of us spend more time preparing for the hours of birth than the years after it.

I try to share helpful (or funny) resources on the Semi-Crunchy Mama Facebook page, but I have managed to read a few books in the last few years that stand out as having influenced my parenting in a big way.

My Top 3 Parenting Books for Semi Crunchy Parents

Don’t have time to read? My secret is to download the Kindle app for your phone. I make the background black so it’s not as bright, and I read while I put my kids to bed or am up nursing at night. There are tons of ebooks available from the library, too! Another option is audiobooks if you have a commute, or you can listen while doing chores.

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

This is a great book to read even before your kids are born. (You also have more time to read when you don't have children yet.)

This book is more overall philosophy than practical application, but it offers a big picture view of what kind of parent you might want to be (and why) backed up by studies and research. Most parenting books tend to be based on social and cultural norms, but Alfie Kohn goes beyond that and talks about the kind of society and culture we could have if we parented in a way that was best for our kids, not that was best for the views of other adults.

It's an incredibly eye-opening book, since most of us base our approach on what our parents did, but don't always examine if that's the best approach or just the familiar one.

The downside is that it can make you think about what your childhood might have looked like if your parents had read this book, and you may be disappointed. The book made me rethink my views of praise, school, and discipline. When I'm feeling frustrated or disconnected from my kids, revisiting the principles found in this book help me remember what kind of parent I want to be so I focus more on our relationship than on my kids’ behavior.

There is also a summary of the book HERE.

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham

I originally discovered Dr. Markham through her website, ahaparenting.com, and was lucky to hear her speak locally here in San Diego when my oldest was about a year old. I appreciate her approach, which is grounded in attachment theory, and provides a roadmap for “authoritative parenting” -- the happy middle ground between controlling authoritarian and unsupportive permissive styles.

She offers specific phrases and concrete examples that I can use in my actual life. I can't promise that my kids actually react like the dialogues in the book, but I have found it very useful, and her focus on empathy is incredibly important and valuable. Luckily, before I had my second baby, her book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings was released as well. (I'll do a separate post on sibling resources another time.)

Much of her advice can be found on her blog and newsletters, but having the book as a resource I can revisit has definitely paid off.

Pro-tip: sometimes the Kindle version goes on sale for just a few dollars. It’s still worth it at full price!

Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen


I recommend this book so often that I ended up writing a blog post about it because I couldn't find a good summary to send to clients and friends. Cohen is a play therapist, and also a father, so he draws from both his personal and professional experiences.

My oldest was a toddler when I read it, but the activities apply until at least the tween years. He explains various approaches to enter the world of our children to meet them where they are, and how to use play to connect to our kids and give them an outlet for their emotions and struggles.

Being playful and silly does not come naturally to me, but having specific ideas gives me a starting point and ideas to at least get started. When I get it right, it’s like magic!

There are many activities and games described in the book, or he has an entire separate book called The Art of Roughhousing which has diagrams. He also wrote The Opposite of Worry (I’m halfway through) which discusses playful approaches specifically for kids with anxiety.

Two other books I’ve heard are great:

  • The Whole Brain Child by Dan Siegel I've started, but not finished. It explains normal brain development and what that means for managing expectations of behavior in young kids.
  • The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary comes highly recommended and sounds interesting as it explores the "parent-child journey" as we learn alongside our kids.

Have you read any of these? What are your favorites?

* I do use affiliate links for books, so if you purchase through me, I make a few cents for the referral. It goes toward feeding my kiddos who eat 9 zillion times a day, so I appreciate it.