Babies don’t come with instruction manuals. Children are at once joyful, sad, confusing, predictable, generous, selfish, gentle and mean. What’s a parent to do when faced with such perplexing offspring? Given the complex interactions of parent, child and surroundings, parents often feel lost. Many may seek answers in parenting books.
Parenting books are big business, and there are tens of thousands of titles for sale. The big question, though, is: Do parenting books help?
How effective they are is a matter of debate, especially given the lack of scientific evidence regarding their usefulness. Limited research has found that problem-focused self-help books may be helpful to readers – think tips about time management or healthy eating. And studies find that using books independently to improve well-being – what psychologists call bibliotherapy – is somewhat effective for addressing stress, anxiety and depression.
So it makes sense that reading a parenting book could be useful. In terms of quality and usefulness, however, they exist on a continuum.
We’re scholars of human development, have taught thousands of students about parenting and write about family, parenting and development through the lifespan. One of us (Bethany) is the mother of six little ones, while the other of us (Denise) has two adult children, one of whom is Bethany. We believe that parents can become critical thinkers and choose the books that will be most appropriate for them. Here are five questions to think about when you’re looking for the best parenting book for you.