The idea of an “unknown unknown” was conceived in 1955 by two American psychologists to help people more deeply understand their relationship with themselves. The concept highlights there are some things we’re unaware we don’t know. It’s a notion I’ve embraced for many years, which despite it’s simplicity has had a profound effect on the way I approach new experiences and uncharted territory.
It demands we let go of ego, preconceived ideals and dares us to approach life with childlike curiosity, open-mindedness and wonder. It’s power lies in its ability to summon us to question if we truly know something or if we’ve dangerously assumed we do.
Parenting is littered with unknown unknowns. Why? Because there’s SO much to know. As a result, we’re tempted to innocently assume we understand what our children need based on what society tells us is normal and acceptable. Yet, I’m invariably amazed when I dig a little deeper to find staunchly defended beliefs are often based on myth and paranoia rather than being rooted in reality or scientific evidence.
As parents, we need to be cautious about who we trust to give us advice.
After all, not only is there profit to be made from sleep deprived, overwhelmed, solution hungry parents but professionals, family and friends may subconsciously pressure us to make similar choices they made. Thankfully, there’s a growing community of passionate, credible and kind hearted individuals, dedicating their careers to specializing in specific areas of infant and child development.
I’ve read most of the books below multiple times; I always uncover new words of wisdom when I revisit them, challenging me to be a better parent and giving me the confidence to forge my own path. I trust their advice; its backed by scientific evidence, evolutionary history, common sense and compassion. The authors have influenced the way we parent our son and have, as an invaluable side benefit compelled me to grow as a person recognizing where many of my own limitations stem from and how to avoid passing on the same issues to my little man.
If I had to choose a single parenting superpower it would be connection. Developing an intentional practice around strengthening our parent-child bond is a fail-safe investment in our relationships with our children. As the author, Pam Leo says, “The level of cooperation parents get from their children is usually equal to the level of connection children feel with their parents.” A strong connection brings back the joy in parenting and makes rough days easier.
Connection Parenting is one of those books you won’t be able to put down: it’s that good, it’s that positive. It challenges us to parent smarter not harder, and with compassion rather than coercion. Children need love, respect and guidance and Pam inspires us to have the courage to follow an unconventional path. If all parents followed Pam’s wisdom our world would be a kinder place within one generation.
THE OTHER BABY BOOK
This is the first book I read about attachment parenting when I was eight months pregnant on our Hawaiian baby moon (those were the days!) and it absolutely blew my mind. What the authors, Miriam and Megan, described, instantly felt like a natural, logical and authentic way to care for babies. For me, they promised a new, exciting and organic dimension to parenthood.
The Other Baby Book outlines natural birth practices and attachment parenting techniques parents can use in the first year of their baby’s life, including early potty training, co sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing and baby led weaning. Each technique shares the same aim: to strengthen the parent-baby connection, make babies feel happy and secure and make parenting a wondrous and magical experience rather than something to “get through”.
One of the things I love most about this book is Miriam and Megan highlight families needs to make their own parenting choices: there is no one right way. In many instances, the authors have not always made the same choices for their individual families. I will be forever grateful to these two sassy, non-judgmental mothers for introducing me to the gift of natural parenting and for bravely tackling hot button topics with grace and well-founded research.
PEACEFUL PARENTS, HAPPY KIDS
As the title suggests, a healthy parent-child relationship starts with us, the parents. In Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids, Dr. Laura Markham identifies it’s often our own emotional struggles or limitations preventing us from communicating with our children in the way they need to be happy kids. I first read this book when my son was two years old and it was a game-changer. My perspective on tantrums changed: it encouraged me to see them as a time to strengthen our connection, as a golden opportunity to step up to the positive parenting plate and to guide my son through his emotional struggles.
A clinical psychologist specializing in child development and parenting, Dr. Laura Markham’s approach is simple, effective and practical. Her message is a positive one: if we continually deepen our emotional connection with our children we create lasting change, and we won’t be lured by destructive practices such as punishments, threats, rewards and time outs.
Every parent MUST read this book. No matter what parenting style we choose, our children live in a modern world where they’re exposed to the four pillars excess. As Kim John Payne so eloquently describes the four pillars of excess are having too much stuff, too many choices, too much information and too much speed.
Months after reading this book the message that stayed with me was, our children’s normal personality quirks combined with the stress of “too much” can propel children into the realm of disorder. A child who is systematic may be pushed into obsessive behaviours. A dreamy child may lose the ability to focus. Kim cites studies in which simplifying children’s lives can have a more significantly healing effect than commonly prescribed drugs such as Ritalin.
Simplicity Parenting delivered such a powerful message I wrote a blog post, Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues, about it earlier this year – the post immediately went viral with hundreds of comments from passionate parents globally confirming this is an issue which affects us all. The good news is, we have the power to do something about it, to protect our children and give them the freedom to grow into healthy and happy adults. And Kim tells us how to do it.
SLEEPING WITH YOUR BABY
We’d bought the non toxic crib, the bamboo mattress and cutest little organic cotton sheets we could find. It was sitting front and centre in our baby-to-be’s room waiting for him to arrive.
Then at one of our prenatal visits, our midwife casually said, “He’ll sleep with you”.
“What do you mean?” I replied, “He’ll sleep in his crib”.
“No”, she said “he’ll sleep with you – I can tell”.
I walked out thinking our midwife was a little odd: didn’t all babies sleep in cribs? But, she’d aroused my curiosity and I had to know more. So, I turned to Professor James McKenna, of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame. It would be fair to argue Dr McKenna knows more about infant sleep than just about anyone on the planet. He has devoted his career to studying how sleeping environments reflect and respond to family needs—in particular how they affect mothers, breastfeeding, and infants’ physiological and psychological well-being and development.
By the end of the first chapter I knew we’d be selling our crib on Craigslist. And by the end of the book I felt completely confident our bed was the safest place for our baby to sleep and would also serve as a powerful catalyst to fuel our little family’s connection. I wasn’t wrong and three years later, we’re still sleeping together.
If you are curious about sleeping with your baby but need to know it’s safe, like I did, Sleeping With Your Baby is the book for you. And if bedsharing isn’t possible for you and you know your baby will sleep in a crib, I’d still urge you to read this book. Dr McKenna outlines multiple options, which will work for any family, and ensuring a safe sleep environment for babies – none of which include sleeping alone in their own room. In short, this is a book for all parents, grandparents and caregivers.
THE WHOLE BRAIN CHILD
If you want to understand why your young children behave the way they do, this book is for you. Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr Tina Bryson outline how our children’s brains develop and why a three year old simply doesn’t have the capacity to act like a mini adult. Parenting is still difficult, but appreciating our kids are doing the best they can with the tools they have, helps us empathize, support and encourage healthy brain development.
Young children are right brain dominant, but what does that mean? As the authors explain the right brain’s emotions rule over the logical left brain, which doesn’t fully mature until the mid-twenties. Whole Brain Child outline twelve strategies to integrate the left and right brain and explain why, during emotional upsets, some forms of communication work like magic and others are futile. Whole Brain Child makes neuroscience fascinating and accessible to parents, giving practical age-appropriate strategies to make day-to-day struggles easier – I can’t recommend it highly enough!
I’ll stop there, but what positive parenting books would you add to this list?
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