Summer Reading for Parents: 15 Books for Raising Stronger Kids | Deborah Farmer Kris | 6 Min Read

Want to know one of the best parts of working as a parenting journalist? I get to read a lot of books. 

I read pen-in-hand. If, after finishing, a book is so dog-eared, post-it-noted, and marked up that it looks like a Velveteen Rabbit in print form, I put it on a special bookshelf — for sharing, referencing, and rereading. 

Here are 15 books that sit on that shelf (when I haven’t lent them out to a friend).

  1. Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine, by Michelle Borba

Michelle Borba, an educational psychologist and character development expert, identifies seven character strengths that help humans flourish across their lifespan: self-confidence, empathy, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism. Not only does Borba knit together the research and tell engaging stories, she also offers really practical advice on how to help children develop each of these strengths. You can read my interview with Michelle Borba here. 

  1. The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence, by Jessica Lahey

This powerful book combines narrative and rich research. Born into a family with a history of addiction, Jessica Lahey found herself struggling with alcoholism as an adult. After finding her path to sobriety, Lahey taught teens at a rehab center while raising her own two sons. All of this motivated her to dive deeply into the research on addiction prevention and how we can “inoculate” our kids against substance abuse. You can read my interview with Lahey here.

  1. Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, by Dr. Lisa Damour

This book is at the top of my list for anyone with a teenage girl in their life. No one understands the stressors faced by this population better than Lisa Damour. She offers so many insights for meeting their needs that reading this book will help your family push the pressure release valve. You can read my interview with Damour here

  1. No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls, by Katie Hurley

Mean girl behavior can start young, but it doesn’t have to. Psychologist Katie Hurley doesn’t minimize the pain caused by tough social interactions — but she also offers hope steeped in practical ideas for raising strong, confident girls. You can read my interview with her here.

  1. How To Raise A Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men, by Michael Reichert

Psychologist Michael Reichert is hopeful that a new space is opening up in how we think about boys and boyhood — a space that allows them to build stronger connections, express their emotions, and become their authentic selves. And he shares how parents can help. You can read my interview with Reichert here. 

  1. Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive, by Marc Brackett

Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Canter for Emotional Intelligence, lays out a pathway for helping kids strengthen their emotional competence — drawing on the acronym RULER: Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate Emotions. But this book isn’t clinical; he shares his own journey with emotions and gives parents insight into how to give ourselves “permission to feel.” You can read my interview with Brackett here.

  1. How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims

I knew I’d love this book when I read Julie Lythcott-Haim’s essay, “What Overparenting Looks LIke from a Stanford Dean’s Perspective.”  Overhelping our kids may be rooted in love and concern, but it can strip them of autonomy and stunt the self-confidence that comes from navigating the world with increasing independence. She offers parents a vision of a better way.

  1. Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World, by Mitch Prinstein

Who doesn’t remember the “popular kids table” at middle school lunch? Psychologist Mitch Prinstein dives into the research on popularity — including why, for a short period of our development, the most popular kids are not the most well-liked. If you are worried about your child’s social standing or fitting in, this book offers a much-needed perspective — and may help you better understand your own teenage years! You can read my interview with Prinstein here.

  1. Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, by Laurence Steinberg

I have yet to find another book that so eloquently describes what is happening in the teenage brain. As neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg notes, the very things that can make the teenage years challenging for parents also make it an incredibly rich time for learning and growth. 

  1. Middle School Matters: The 10 Key Skills Kids Need to Thrive in Middle School and Beyond — and How Parents Can Help, by Phyllis Fagell

School counselor Phyllis Fagell has a soft spot in her heart for middle school students, and this affection leaps off the pages of her book. If you have found yourself flummoxed by your middle schoolers’ changing moods, social struggles, or cognitive leaps and dives, this book will help you get your bearings. You can read my interview with Fagell here

  1. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity, by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

Before Dr. Nadine Burke Harris became Surgeon General of California, she was a pediatrician who specialized in childhood trauma and recovery. Her research is groundbreaking for parents, educators, and policy-makers who are worried about the long-term effects of childhood adversity. You can read my interview with Dr. Burke Harris here

12. The AfterGrief: Finding Your Way Along the Long Arc of Loss, by Hope Edelman

Let’s face it: so many of us have experienced loss this year. This book is self-care for you — a way to put on your oxygen mask first. Hope Edelman, a grief expert, gently examines how grief can look different weeks, months, and years after a loss. She also has insights into helping children navigate grief. It’s an exquisite read. You can read my interview with Edelman here.

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

“This book changed my relationship with my daughter,” an extroverted friend recently told me. So many of our families are temperamentally diverse. If you have an introverted child — or if you are an introverted parent — this book is both reassuring and empowering. It will help you reframe “quiet” as a strength. 

  1. Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying, by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski

For the last three years, I have used this book — written for tweens and teens — as the text for study habits workshops for middle schoolers. And I always urge the parents to read it, too. This is the most practical book on how the brain works ever written for the adolescent. And since it wasn’t around when we were kids, we can read it and play catch-up! You can read my interview with Barbara Oakley here

  1. How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adel Faber and Elaine Mazlish

This isn’t a new book. I first read it as a college student studying elementary education, and it equipped me with language I could use for talking TO kids instead of AT kids. Every couple of years, I read it again — and it always makes me a more effective teacher and parent. 

Deborah Farmer Kris

A writer, teacher, parent, and child development expert, Deborah Farmer Kris writes regularly for PBS KIDS for Parents and NPR’s MindShift; her work has been featured several times in The Washington Post; and she is the author of the All the Time picture book series (coming out in 2022) focused on social-emotional growth. A popular speaker, Deborah has a B.A. in English, a B.S. in Education, and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology. Mostly, she loves finding and sharing nuggets of practical wisdom that can help kids and families thrive — including her own. You can follow her on Twitter @dfkris, contact her at [email protected], or visit her website: Parenthood365 (

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