Challenging Child? Here Are the Best Books to Help You Diagnose and Deal

All kids have moments that make you feel like a completely useless parent (like, say, when your four-year-old races up and down the halls of your grandmother’s nursing home yelling ‘Why are there so many OLD people here?’). And every childhood is marked by rough patches (see: grades five to eight). But if family life is starting to feel like one endless difficult phase, parenting pros can help. Here, especially useful books from the best of the bunch.

The 7 Most Essential Parenting Books

challenging books settinglimits

setting Limits With Your Strong-willed Child

For: Anyone who feels like her kid just does not listen

If you find yourself constantly either bribing or punishing your kid (sometimes in the same sentence) in a desperate attempt to manage his behavior, this one’s for you. Educational psychologist Robert J. MacKenzie aims to help parents break the cycle of what he calls “the ineffective extremes of punishment and permissiveness.” How? By translating for us what children hear when adults speak. And by teaching parents that firm, dispassionate, consistent action is worth a thousand begging, threatening words.

challenging books zone

the Zones Of Regulation

For: Parents scared of the next tantrum

Written by an occupational therapist as “a framework to foster self-regulation and gain emotional control,” this book is the gold standard for educators and school psychologists. It doesn’t merely offer anecdotal advice; it presents a system of communicating with kids about their feelings. Here, the emotional spectrum is color-coded (when you’re in the “red zone,” you are feeling angry, anxious, explosive; when you’re in the “green zone,” you are feeling calm, focused and ready to learn). It gives grown-ups and children a vital new language for expressing—and managing—how they feel.

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challenging books outofsync

the Out Of Sync Child

For: Anyone worried about sensory stuff

Some occupational therapists believe that behavioral challenges—from impulsivity to apparent obliviousness to others’ personal space to picky eating to high-risk play to constantly craving physical activity like spinning or crashing—may be symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a controversial topic. But finding a reason, and a potential intervention, for a child’s challenging behavior can feel like a gift.

challenging books difficult

the Difficult Child

For: Anyone who’s asked herself: Is my kid normal?

Psychiatrist Dr. Stanley Turecki created a program at NYC’s Beth Israel Hospital called “The Difficult Child Program.” (How do you like those credentials?) He focuses on getting parents to understand, accept and work with their child’s temperament—an innate trait we are all born with: “To be an expert parent you primarily need to understand and accept your child for the person he truly is (not the child you wished you had) and to do your best to adapt your parenting style to the temperament and capabilities of your child,” he writes. And, most importantly, he adds: “'Difficult’ is very different from ‘abnormal.’”

challenging books wholebrain

the Whole Brain Child

For: Any parent struggling to understand where her child is coming from

By providing the neurological backstory behind our kids’ most maddening behavior, psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel aims to “demystify the meltdowns and aggravation, explaining the new science of how a child's brain is wired and how it matures.” If we can objectively understand their behavior, we can take it less personally—key to helping them find calm.