The best books for raising self-reliant children

The Books I Picked & Why

Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)

By Lenore Skenazy

Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)

Why this book?

No other book – and arguably no other personality – has done more to help loosen the lock-hold helicopter parenting has on our kids than Free-Range Kids and Lenore Skenazy. The book is a primer on ways to give your kids the freedom to grow up while it tears apart many of the paranoid parenting myths: from child predators lurking on every corner to the overblown dangers of choking on uncut grapes. Even better, Skenazy is hilarious and her book is great fun to read.


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Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

By Peter Gray

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

Why this book?

An evolutionary psychologist, Gray argues that human children, like all mammals, learn best through play. He advocates for a learning process that is kid- and play-driven. Using an innovative school as a model, Gray makes a compelling case for revolutionizing education by putting it in the hands of the kids themselves. Even if you can’t send your child to one of these schools, this book will give you many ideas on how to let your kids take charge of their own academic interests and pursuits which will ultimately help them grow up to take better charge of their own lives and happiness.


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Mommy Laid An Egg: Or, Where Do Babies Come From?

By Babette Cole

Mommy Laid An Egg: Or, Where Do Babies Come From?

Why this book?

When my daughter was in first grade in Germany, her teacher read this book to her entire class. Sex education is considered a right in Germany since knowing how your body works is essential for your reproductive health. In the U.S. it’s left to us as parents to teach sex ed to our kids—which I’d argue is less than ideal, given the high costs of keeping kids ignorant. (The U.S. has higher rates of teen AIDS, teen pregnancy, and abortion than Germany.) If you don’t know how to broach this subject, this book is a good, age-appropriate, place to start when your young kids first begin asking questions.


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How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

By Paul Tough

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

Why this book?

If we want to break through America’s overparenting culture, it might help to redefine the rather narrow definition many of us have of success. Using research and real-world examples, Tough shows that a pure focus on grades and other external markers of success actually fails kids in the long run. Instead, he looks at ways that foster intrinsic characteristics that help children become resilient adults who are able to overcome difficulties and succeed at whatever they decide to do.


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How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

By Julie Lythcott-Haims

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

Why this book?

A former Stanford dean, Lythcott-Haims saw many intelligent but fragile college students. While they were high achieving students, they had been escorted by their parents from “milestone to milestone,” and as young adults, they were unprepared to deal with challenges themselves. Some had trouble even making their own decisions without consulting their parents. This book not only reveals the problems with overmanaging kids’ school work but provides practical advice on how to give kids the space they need to learn how to manage their own lives.


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