There is no fail-safe formula for good parenting, but that hasn’t stopped generations of psychologists, pediatricians, bloggers and scientists from claiming to know the secrets of raising happy, well-adjusted kids. There are, of course, the classic experts like Benjamin Spock, Penelope Leach, William Sears and Richard Ferber. But every year there are new gurus–recently, we’ve heard about the French way, the Tiger Mom way, the mindful way and the Slacker Mom way to parent.
To help you sort through the noise, we’ve put together a diverse list of voices on parenting at all stages—from infant sleep issues, to toddler food struggles, teen cliques and technology quandaries at all ages. And if they can’t help, there’s always your community, says Wendy Sue Swanson, a parenting blogger and author. “The most influential parenting voice these days is the tribe,” she says. “It’s the aggregation of parents and professionals you listen to on Facebook or Twitter.”
Ellyn Satter: Ending Power Struggles Over Food
Nutritionist Satter offers strategies and advice to guide parents and children toward a diet that’s diverse and healthy. Her signature Division of Responsibility in Feeding manifesto helps parents avoid the negative power struggles that lead to stressful mealtimes, unhealthy diets and longtime picky eaters. Satter has written several books on child nutrition, including Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense and Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook.
Jennifer Senior: The Challenge of Being a Modern Parent
In the introduction to All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, Senior warns readers that her book is not intended to be a manual of child-rearing advice. “Tilt your head and stare long enough, and it’s possible you’ll make some out. But that is not my primary objective.” Instead, Senior’s book strives to explain why and how modern American parenting has become an all-consuming, stressful task that, too often, is no fun at all. The book is a deep and thorough study of the effects of children on parents and a reminder that often the happiest parents make the best parents, so moms and dads should take care of themselves as well as their children.
Rosalind Wiseman: Understanding the Social Angst of Teenagers
Best known for writing Queen Bees and Wannabes, the book that became the movie Mean Girls, Wiseman’s contention that adolescent girls and boys have different problems—and need different strategies for finding success and happiness—has changed the way parents and educators view teenage angst and discord. After her blockbuster book on girls, Wiseman published a parallel book on boys in 2013, Masterminds & Wingmen. Wiseman bases her conclusions and advice on interviews with real live kids and her down-to-Earth guidance is as accessible as it is sensible.
Paul Tough: Building Character
Tough is the author of Whatever it Takes, a book about Geoffrey Canada’s effort to pull kids out of poverty through the Harlem Children’s Zone, an education-focused non-profit organization in New York City. In his latest book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Tough writes that kids who can adversity and overcome it are best prepared for success and happiness. Writing about poor and rich kids, Tough contends that making home environments more supportive but less insulating creates kids with character, the most important ingredient to success later in life.
Heather Armstrong: Connecting Parents, Creating Community
Armstrong is the original mommy blogger. Her blog, Dooce, got her fired from her day job in 2002 and turned into a full-time gig she’s been working every since. Chronicling the events, problems and day-to-day hilarity of managing her family—along with her postpartum depression—Armstrong has attracted millions of readers and become a flashpoint in the debate over the pitfalls and benefits of sharing personal stories online. In 2009, she launched The Dooce Community, an online forum where her readers ask questions and offer advice to each other. The forum provides an outlet for Armstrong’s loyal followers and a resource for all parents looking to connect.
Marc Weissbluth: Ending Sleep Deprivation
It’s been 15 years since Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child was published, yet the book is still one of the most popular baby sleep books on the market. While Weissbluth’s book emphasizes the critical importance of sleep for babies—offering strategies and programs for achieving great nap schedules and nighttime rest—parents turn to the book for their own shut-eye needs as well. Moms and dads trapped in the fog of sleep deprivation often have trouble designing sleep plans that work. They can find relief in Weissbluth book—if they can stay awake long enough to read it.
Wendy Sue Swanson: Practical Medical Advice
A pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Swanson started blogging in 2010 and has since gained more than 20,000 Twitter followers. Her must-read blog, SeattleMamaDoc.org, doles out advice on everything from vaccines, autism (and why the two are not related) to commentary on news events related to parenting and health. Swanson gave a TEDx talk in 2013 on how doctors can use the internet and social media to connect with patients and kids and published her first book, Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work-Life Balance, earlier this year.
Harvey Karp: Soothing Fussy Babies
Karp published his seminal book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, back in 2002, but his advice on how to calm fussy babies is still guiding millions of new parents across America. Ever wonder why seemingly every baby registry includes a sound machine and a swaddling blanket? Thank Karp. His five-part prescription for soothing colicky babies and getting infants to sleep has grown into an empire. Karp published a follow-up book geared specifically to parents of toddlers and frequently travels to lecture parents and health professionals on how to care for babies and small children.
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish: Family Communication
Faber and Mazlish have been giving parenting advice for more than three decades and are still revered as some of the most accessible and sensible experts on how to communicate with children. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was first published in the 1980s and has since been reissued and translated into some 20 languages. Educators and counselors often recommend Faber and Mazlish’s book for its lessons on how to handle conflict, connect with kids and respect their feelings while building strong family relationships. Faber and Mazlish’s also wrote another well-known tome, Siblings Without Rivalry.
Wendy Mogel: Raising Resilient and Self-Reliant Kids
Although her book, Blessings of a Skinned Knee, links lessons in parenting to Judaism, parents of all faiths will find useful wisdom in Mogel’s highly regarded volume. Mogel is a clinical psychologist and teaches strategies for raising resilient children. Blessings offers a counter balance to the trend of parents scheduling too many activities for kids and jumping in to save them from every minor pain or moment of adversity. Sometimes it’s fine to just back off and let kids figure things out on their own, advises Mogel. Amen.
Madeline Levine: Quelling the Urge to Over-Parent
Because the over-parenting movement has become so pervasive, it seems necessary to highlight a second expert trying to reverse the tide. Levine’s Teach Your Children Well tells parents that raising happy kids is just as important—and maybe even more important—than raising kids that are high achievers. In fact, she argues that focusing on achievement over all else may produce more unhappiness than pride in accomplishment, while also setting kids up for devastating disappointment if they stumble along the way. Levine is a psychologist and offers advice on how to avoid these pitfalls and encourage children to find success and contentment that’s deep and sustaining.
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman: Parenting With Science
Bronson and Merryman’s Nutureshock upended much of the conventional wisdom that has guided parents for generations, beginning with their revelation that praising kids often does more harm than good. From neuroscience to studies on relationships between parents, children and siblings, the book uses research to explain some of the most vexing problems parents face in the modern age. Bronson and Merryman aren’t parenting gurus in the traditional sense; their collaboration also produced a book on the science of winning and losing. But their journalistic approach to parenting occupies an important space in the cannon of child-rearing manuals.
Deborah Roffman: How to Talk About Sex With Kids
Of all the challenging and seemingly critical moments in parenting, having the sex talk may be the most awkward. Roffman is here to hold parents’ hands as they navigate this terrain. She’s written two books on communicating with kids about sex—Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex and Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex. Roffman is a consultant for educators and teaches sex ed at a school in Baltimore.
Daniel Siegel: Brain Development
Written with co-author Tina Payne Bryson, Siegel’s The Whole Brain Child explains how various steps in a kid’s brain development lead to specific feelings and behavior. The authors combine this explanation with strategies for cultivating emotional intelligence in children. Siegel, also an expert in mindfulness, has written or co-written several other books on parenting including Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, published in January, and No-Drama Discipline, set to be published later this year.
Catherine Steiner-Adair: Navigating the Screen-Time Wars
Many parenting struggles remain stubbornly the same generation after generation, but digital technology and smart phones have created a truly new paradigm and loads of confusion about how to manage everything from social media to screen time. Clinical psychologist Steiner-Adair is in the less texting, more talking camp, evidenced by her book on the subject, titled The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. In the book, Steiner-Adair, who lectures and consults on the topic of digital technology and kids, warns that this new world is damaging interpersonal family relationships and offers advice about how to manage the phones, computers and tablets that are here to stay.
Bruce Feiler: Managing Family Dynamics With Business Strategies
In his book, The Secrets of Happy Families, Feiler recounts what he learned from experts in industries unrelated to parenting. Borrowing techniques and strategies used in business, the military and other organizations, Feiler offers advice on how to have productive family meetings, argue well and cultivate creativity and resilience in kids. A best-selling author of books on Christian topics and other matters, Feiler’s advice is clear and simple.