9 Essential Parenting Books To Help Your Kid Thrive In School

Parenting books for tackling back-to-school challenges that don't talk down to parents.

Emma Chao/Fatherly; Coutesy of The Whole-Brain Child, How to Raise An Anti-Racist, The Self-Driven Child, Parent Like it Matters, How To Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids; Getty Images
The Back To School Issue 2023

Parents have oft lamented the fact that kids don’t come with instruction manuals. This isn’t to say there’s a lack of guidance available for those wanting to refine their parenting skills. As far back as 1946, when American pediatrician Benjamin Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care sold 500,000 copies in its first six months of publication, the parenting book industrial complex has been humming right along.

As the school year gets ready to kick off, many parents will be looking for a helpful read as they start a post-summer reset. With so many options to sort through, we’ve hand-picked nine essential parenting books that provide cutting-edge insights across an array of topics — without talking down to parents.

How to Raise an Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

“How do I raise an antiracist child?” was not just a theoretical question for Ibram X. Kendi, but also a practical one that he wrestled with as a teacher. And while his initial desire when he found out he was going to become a father was to shield his daughter from racism, he quickly realized the urgency of teaching and modeling antiracism for young children so that they could be as prepared as possible to operate in a world where racist acts by individuals are prevalent but racism is baked into systems and institutions.

How to Raise an Antiracist is a passionate and empathetic book from a fellow parent that is grounded in much of the same research that undergirds Kendi’s previous book How to Be an Antiracist, but with an emphasis on the different stages of child development.

A Place to Belong: Celebrating Diversity and Kinship in the Home and Beyond by Amber O'Neal Johnston

At the beginning of A Place to Belong, Amber O’Neal Johnston challenges parents to embrace self-interrogation in the pursuit of inclusivity. She fully acknowledges the intentionality and hard work that are required to cultivate a truly inclusive home, but she also captures the real urgency of this particular moment in history, if we want to start undoing the toxic effects of divisiveness and injustice.

Johnston lays out a compelling blueprint in A Place to Belong for how to help kids grow in self-acceptance and radical inclusivity. She includes examining family culture, acknowledging the challenges and injustices other cultures face, and evaluating the literary and media lenses parents provide through which their kids then interpret the world around them. And she’s a passionate proponent for parents normalizing difficult conversations with their kids.

While it’s a message delivered with grace, Johnston’s call to inclusivity isn’t an easy task to adopt. But she’s tread the road with her family, and gives a clear-eyed view of how she came to the realization that accepting such an undertaking was preferable to accepting the alternative.

The Self-Driven Child: The Science and Sense of Giving Your Kids More Control Over Their Lives by William Stixrud Ph.D. and Ned Johnson

There’s no shame in parents wanting what’s best for their kids. Where things tend to go off the rails is when parents take too intense of a hands-on approach to every aspect of their child’s lives, stunting their capacity for independence and problem solving.

But parents who want to foster independent kids need to rely on more than their gut feelings to discern appropriate levels of parental support. Stixrud and Johnson offer insights from research to give parents evidence-based strategies for raising resilient kids who don’t fear failure and provide practical advice to help address the roots of childhood anxiety.

Parent Like It Matters: How to Raise Joyful, Change-Making Girls by Janice Johnson Dias PhD

Real talk. Parenting can feel like such a high-stakes endeavor at times, and when it does it can absolutely suck the joy out of parents and kids alike. Sociologist Janice Johnson Dias, Ph.D., understands that reality and sets out in Parent Like It Matters to help parents cultivate joy in their daughters without lowering the expectation that they can create sustainable social change.

Dias bolsters autobiographical storytelling and insights from academic research with assignments at the end of each chapter that provide a roadmap for parents to better care for themselves, get to know their daughters more fully, and raise girls who are purposeful, courageous and joyful.

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming a Calmer, Happier Parent by Carla Naumburg, Ph.D.

Are you ever afraid of how judgy other parents would get if they knew how often you lost it with your kids — or how much energy you burn to keep yourself from losing it with your kids? Well, chances are, you’re not alone. Which doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t strive to become more patient, but it does suggest we’d all be better off if we were honest about how hard it can be to keep our cool.

Naumberg gives voice to these struggles with an honest hilarity to help parents break the shame cycle of feeling like a failure whenever they can’t conjure the patience necessary to keep a compassionate poker face when their kids are driving them nuts. It’s a disarming — though also direct and to-the-point — approach that provides parents the space to identify their triggers and make a plan for avoiding and diffusing them.

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

When The Whole-Brain Child was released over a decade ago, it felt revolutionary in the way it explained the practical implications of neuroscience to parents. Their explanations about how the brain works and how parenting affects brian development were easy to digest, and it felt like parents were being given a cheat code to understand healthy ways to respond to normal kid behaviors that often seemed irrational.

Eleven years later, The Whole-Brain Child still holds up as one of the most helpful and practical parenting books available. And as eye opening as it can be on first read through, it’s formatted in a way that is easy to flip through for a quick refresher when parents want to brush up on its content and strategies.

The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired by by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

Tina Payne Bryson and Daniel Siegel have released dozens of helpful books, articles, and Ted Talks since the release of The Whole Brain Child, at their latest book is particularly relevant in that it explains how parents can be more present in an increasingly distracted world. It can sound like a daunting task, but The Power of Showing Up actually simplifies things for parents by giving them strategies on how to “show up” for their kids without overparenting.

As is common with books that Bryson and Siegel author together, The Power of Showing Up uses stories, scripts, simple strategies and illustrations, to present clear explanations of cutting-edge neuroscience as well as helpful evidence-based applications. It’s also strikingly reassuring in its emphasis that parenting mistakes and missteps are repairable and that it’s never too late to regain your child’s trust and help them develop emotional intelligence.

The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years by Emily Oster

Most people don’t have “Ivy League Business Professor” on their bingo card of most helpful parenting experts, but Oster breaks the mold by providing some of the most data-rich writing available without making you want to sleep through class or skip the reading.

The Family Firm has been described as “a targeted mini-MBA program designed to help moms and dads establish best practices for day-to-day operations," which in some ways is an apt descriptor though it makes the book sound significantly more stale than it actually is.

What helps The Family Firm feel fresh is that Oster understands the questions that parents find most confounding and shares the parenting missteps that have spurred her to dig into research in an attempt to

How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes: Science-Based Strategies for Better Parenting — From Tots to Teens by Melinda Wenner Moyer

Moyer sets a broad — albeit low — bar with the title of her book, but it’s more of an effective hook than an introduction to the depth and substance that follow. The first section of the book walks parents through how to cultivate positive character traits in their kids (“How to raise kids who are ambitious, resilient and motivated”), and help avoid raising kids with negative character traits (“How to raise kids who aren’t sexist”).

The book is, at times, irreverent and laugh-out-loud funny. But it’s also deeply researched and scientifically sound. It captures the many sides of Moyer, who is an award winning contributing editor at Scientific American and a columnist for Slate.