Favorite Books of The Parent Scientist

The book that interested me in the science behind parenting was Ronald Kotulak’s Inside the Brain: Revolutionary Discoveries of How the Mind Works. I was newly married and contemplating the start of a family and his chapter, “The Effects of Violence and Stress on Kid’s Brains,” was a chilling heads-up on just how vitally my parenting was going to effect the development of my future off-spring. In 2000, as I sat rocking my infant daughter, I used Lise Elliot’s What’s Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life as my guidebook to the unfolding neurobiological miracle tucked snugly in my arms.

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Then came toddlerhood, and all the neurobiology in the world could not have prepared me for the emotional volcano that erupted around me on a daily basis. Other, more experienced mothers on the playground would look at me with wide eyes and tell me gently, “She’s very intense.” It wasn’t until I stumbled across the Listening to Children booklets by Patty Wipfler of Hand in Hand Parenting that I began to understand how to respond well to the ever-developing mind that was driving my active and emotional toddler. And the science book that helped those parenting practices click into place was the beautifully written A General Theory of Love by a group of local psychiatrists, Drs. Lewis, Amini, and Lannon. Their book poetically details the ins and outs of the attachment relationships in families and explores the deeper neurobiology of parenting and other attachment-based relationships.

Another great resource that brings neurobiology and day-to-day parenting together is a book written by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell, Parenting from the Inside Out. This is the work that brought me back around to the premonitions Kotulak’s Inside the Brain had started—parenting really matters. But more than that, it showed me that who we are as parents is formed largely by how we are parented. And if we want to do something different with our children, especially something corrective, it’s going to take work to swim upstream against the patterns that were laid down in our own childhoods. Dr. Siegel and Mary Hartzell give clear examples of how things in our own past experience make parenting our children challenging in those same trouble spots. This book is not a light read, and I’ve been through it several times now, once with a book group, which made the trip much more enjoyable and useful for my own parenting.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the “opportunities for growth” presented by Siegel and Hartzell, there’s hope. One of Dr. Siegel’s colleagues has written a friendly and accessible book on the positive side of human connections. In The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: Attachment and the Developing Social Brain, Dr. Louis Cozolino uses stories from his private psychotherapy practice to bring the neuroscience to life as he comprehensively demonstrates the reparative abilities of the human mind.

My bookshelf currently holds Brain Rules for Baby, by the wonderfully engaging and readable John Medina and The Whole-Brain Child by Dr. Siegel, and new co-author, Tina Payne Bryson. Am I missing any of your favorites? Were your eyes opened during your parenting journey by someone I’ve overlooked? I hope you’ll leave a comment sharing which books brought the science of parenting alive for you and your family.

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