The best books for loving and raising challenging kids

Dona J. Matthews Author Of Being Smart About Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change
By Dona J. Matthews

Who am I?

I love prickly children. I was one myself, and I’ve quite a few of them in my family. I’ve also worked with desperate families over the years, children who are out of control, parents feeling overwhelmed, nobody knowing what to do to find the calm and loving core of connection we all yearn for. I feel the suffering these authors document—the child’s sense of being misunderstood and punished unfairly, and the parent’s desperation. So, when I read a book that offers intelligent and caring solutions driven by science, compassion, and experience, I share it with everyone who will listen. I’m delighted to have a chance here to do that.

I wrote...

Being Smart About Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change

By Dona J. Matthews, Joanne Foster,

Book cover of Being Smart About Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change

What is my book about?

Being Smart about Gifted Learning is for parents, grandparents, teachers, and others who want to support young people in developing their strengths. It describes the Optimal Match approach—matching learning opportunities to children’s interests and abilities—grounded in neuroscience and developmental psychology, and based on current evidence about how giftedness develops. Readers describe it as a book “about embracing opportunities to encourage children’s strengths and nurture their well-being.” Topics include neural plasticity, equity, diversity, tests and assessments, creativity, homeschooling, neurodiversity, social-emotional issues, and more.

The ideas are illustrated with real-life examples and recommendations, showing the reader why and how to provide the resources and learning opportunities children and teenagers need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Beyond Behaviors: Using Brain Science and Compassion to Understand and Solve Children's Behavioral Challenges

Why did I love this book?

In Beyond Behaviors, Mona Delahooke makes a clear, strong case for parents’ self-compassion and for parents’ compassionate responses to their children’s “bad” behavior. Using solid brain science evidence and case histories from her decades of working with very challenging kids, Dr. Delahooke illustrates that children begin to thrive when they feel understood—not judged, not punished—when they lose control. The reader comes to see that misbehavior is a precious clue to a child’s troubled inner reality. A parent’s impatience, irritation, annoyance, or anxiety not only exacerbates the problem, increasing the child’s suffering, but is also a sad, wasted chance at providing the sense of security the child needs, which is a necessary first step on the road to doing better. 

By Mona Delahooke,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Beyond Behaviors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A NEW approach to solving behavioral challenges.

In Beyond Behaviors, internationally known pediatric psychologist, Dr. Mona Delahooke describes behaviors as the tip of the iceberg, important signals that we should address by seeking to understand a child’s individual differences in the context of relational safety.

Featuring impactful worksheets and charts, this accessible book offers professionals, educators and parents tools and techniques to reduce behavioral challenges and promote psychological resilience and satisfying, secure relationships.

Neuroscience-based effective tools and strategies for children labeled with:
- Conduct Disorder
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD)
- Reactive Attachment Disorder…

Book cover of The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Sensitive Children Face Challenges and How All Can Thrive

Why did I love this book?

Thomas Boyce not only has impeccable credentials as a pediatrician, academic, and epidemiologist, but he also has deep personal history motivating his writing of The Orchid and the Dandelion. That is, he not only knows this topic, he feels it. On top of all of that, he writes with a warmth and poetic sensitivity so often lacking in evidence-based books like this. Boyce writes about orchid children being exquisitely sensitive, so they absorb their environment and thrive under the right circumstances, becoming remarkably insightful and creative. Under adverse circumstances, however, orchid children wilt. Dandelion children, by contrast, are more resilient and can accommodate more adversity without showing too much harm. Another interesting dimension Boyce explores is how the family, school, community, and society can all have an impact on an orchid child’s development.

By W. Thomas Boyce,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Orchid and the Dandelion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A necessary and important book.' Philippa Perry, Sunday Times bestselling author of The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read

'The Orchid and the Dandelion is based on groundbreaking research that has the power to change the lives of countless children - and the adults who love them.' - Susan Cain, New York Times bestselling author of Quiet

Why do some people succeed and others struggle? Why are some people's lives filled with satisfaction and happiness and others with frustration and despair? Why do some people die young, while others live into healthy old age? Is it simply chance and…

Book cover of The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

Why did I love this book?

One of Dr. Greene’s basic beliefs, reiterated often in this wise and compassionate book, is that “Kids do well if they can.” Instead of seeing their child as manipulative, attention-seeking, stubborn, controlling, or defiant, readers learn to understand that really, the child lacks some necessary skills: flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance, emotion regulation, and problem-solving. Using a combination of exposition, explanation, and stories from his decades of practice with troubled kids in many circumstances, Greene shows parents how to put the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model into action. He reassures readers that—even if they’ve been doing it all wrong until now—there’s always room for growth and change, starting now. “Kids are resilient,” he writes. “They come around if we start doing the right thing.”

By Ross W. Greene,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Explosive Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now in a revised and updated 6th edition, the groundbreaking, research-based approach to understanding and parenting children who frequently exhibit severe fits of temper and other challenging behaviors, from a distinguished clinician and pioneer in the field.

What's an explosive child? A child who responds to routine problems with extreme frustration-crying, screaming, swearing, kicking, hitting, biting, spitting, destroying property, and worse. A child whose frequent, severe outbursts leave his or her parents feeling frustrated, scared, worried, and desperate for help. Most of these parents have tried everything-reasoning, explaining, punishing, sticker charts, therapy, medication-but to no avail. They can't figure out…

Raising Your Spirited Child

By Mary Sheedy Kurcinka,

Book cover of Raising Your Spirited Child

Why did I love this book?

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka has been working with parents of difficult children for decades now, except she doesn’t think of the kids that way. Instead of ‘difficult,’ she says, we should learn to think of these kids as ‘spirited.’ When we want to describe our kids as irritable, negative, demanding, and strong-willed, she recommends that we admire their sensitivity, insight, confidence, and insistence on getting what they need. This book is packed with practical ideas for creating a peaceful and loving home environment, and for helping parents learn to soothe their own reactions to behavior that might otherwise be experienced as aggravating, trouble-making, embarrassing, and provocative. 

By Mary Sheedy Kurcinka,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Raising Your Spirited Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now in a new updated version, Kurcinka offers parents the most up-to-date research, effective strategies and real life stories for: managing intensity - not just the kids, but parents too; getting the sleep every family needs and deserves; choosing their battles; helping children to hear their instructions; assisting children in getting along with siblings and peers; and, being successful in school and at home. Spirited children possess traits we value in adults, yet find challenging in children. Studies now show that these children are 'wired' to be more reactive to the world around them. The solution, rather than medication or…

Book cover of The Rested Child: Why Your Tired, Wired, or Irritable Child May Have a Sleep Disorder--And How to Help

Why did I love this book?

The Rested Child puts a different spin on parenting challenging kids. Chris Winter is a neurologist and sleep specialist who has seen countless situations where bad behavior is a symptom of sleep problems. He writes that irritability, ADHD, mood disorders, obesity, and diabetes are only a few of the possible manifestations of sleep disorders. Winters makes some great recommendations, including reassuring kids about “bad sleeps.” Everyone has nights where they don’t sleep so well, he writes, and that’s okay. Because sleep is so important, you want your kid to feel confident and optimistic about their sleeping, not worried. He has some surprising advice, including strongly recommending against sleeping medications of every kind, and advocating for a later start to school, especially for kids from about eleven years old and up.

By W. Chris Winter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rested Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sleep disorders in children are on the rise. Experts have pronounced sleeplessness a 'hidden health crisis' for young people, with 10 percent of children presenting with diagnosable sleep disorders - but well over half are misdiagnosed. Every year, tens of thousands of children are treated for diseases such as diabetes, learning disorders, or chronic pain, when the real root cause of their ailment may actually be a sleep disorder for which they're not being treated.

In this ground-breaking guide, neurologist and sleep expert Dr Chris Winter identifies the signs and symptoms of the most common sleep disorders affecting children today,…

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