Last Updated: November 6, 2021
You can’t have a baby without all the world throwing their unsolicited parenting advice at you. Have a kid? I bet you have parenting opinions! Don’t have a kid? You have parenting opinions too! But more often than not, it seems like a deep dive into specific topics end up helping the most. So here are nine baby and toddler parenting books I actually liked, from the last three years of learning all about babies and toddlers.
Because after the parenting opinions come the parenting philosophies and methods. When you’re pregnant or a new parent, it’s like hearing a different language. And you only know a few greetings and nouns. There’s attachment parenting, there’s free-range, there’s respectful parenting. Then comes the different sleep methods – co-sleeping, Ferber, etc. Different eating methods – #BLW – that’s baby led weaning btw. Then, you start even thinking about preschool, and you learn about Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio. This will go on indefinitely! Yay! I love reading and learning things, so it’s not all bad. My biggest tip for parenting books: Remember, YOU are the expert on your family. So keep critical thinking while you’re reading and see what you find interesting!
Here are the best parenting books for toddlers that I’ve read:
There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom’s Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge) by Linda Åkeson McGurk
There’s a whole genre of parenting book about “white woman from The States moves to X European country, learns to BLANK like the BLANKS DO!” I think it all started with “Bringing up Bebe” the French parenting book. There’s “Achtung Baby” (An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children), and then there’s this one by a Swedish-American. I really loved this one for it’s outdoors twist. It has the whole “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” mantra. And I think it’s a great addition to the more recent push to get kids spending more time outside.
This book really helped remind me that yeah it’s great to get out in all weather. I think the tough part about suddenly wanting your kids to be outdoorsy – it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow thing that grows over time. Sure it’s easier to start when they’re young. Take them outside for hours every day, but if you haven’t been doing that, start now. Start with 5 minutes. We can’t expect our kids to automatically love hiking or the feel of mud or wet grass on their bare feet. (ok some of them just will). But so much of loving the outdoors in all its forms is just repeated exposure.
Prioritize daily outdoor time from when your child is a baby to make it a natural part of your routine from the get-go. Remember that not every nature experience must entail a grand adventure to a scenic national park—watching a caterpillar make its way across a sidewalk or simply lying in the grass and watching the clouds go by in the backyard can be a great adventure to a small child. Celebrate these everyday nature experiences together, and come back to the same places often to make sure your child forms a bond with your community and its natural areas.
Now Say This: The Right Words to Solve Every Parenting Dilemma by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright
That’s some big promises, yall! But seriously, this book is great. If you’re going to read just one of these books, this book is it. It is by the same women who wrote The Happy Sleeper. It’s kind of like a modern updated “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” book. This book is like a framework for communicating to your baby (or toddler, or teen). It even works on your spouse and friends. lol, it’s really about empathy. They have an acronym throughout the book ALP. Attune (watch, listen, understand), Limit Set (state and hold reasonable limits or state a reality), Problem solve (engage your child in creating solutions). Not all parenting situations need all three of these steps, but to consider them really helped me.
When children act out, they are not “being bad,” they’re working on a developmental skill, like emotional regulation or frustration tolerance, or they’re trying to communicate with us in the as-yet only way they know how.
We want our trusted people to see and understand us, especially in vulnerable moments. We want to be heard, even when our feelings don’t make sense or seem irrational to the other person.Now Say This
The Wonder Weeks: A Stress-Free Guide to Your Baby’s Behavior by Xaviera Plas-Plooij, Frans X. Plooij, Hetty van de Rijt
First up, this book is not a definitive guide to your child by week! It goes through 10 different stages or “Leaps”. The leaps are from 5 weeks old to 75 weeks old (that’s about 1.5 years old) Maybe not as exciting for your second or third kid, but for a first-time mom, I loved this book! I got the kindle version and I would try to check it out as a new “Leap” was coming up. Or there would be those mornings where it seemed like your baby woke up a whole new person. And then I would read about the current or next leap. As long as you take it as interesting ideas and don’t confuse it with actual milestones, you’ll be good. If reading it stresses you out, put the book away until you can shift your mindset, or don’t read it.
I liked that each “Leap” chapter had lists of different things they might start doing. For example: body control, hand control, looking and seeing, listening and chatting. And the chapters were organized by different senses – helping them explore through sight, sound, touch, body postures. We found that our little one was usually more into hand work, language and sound items. He was much later on the rest of the movement (gross motor) etc. So it was fun to go through and highlight the list like “oh yeah, he is doing that!” etc. Each chapter also has activities or games to try with them. Followed by toys or other home items that they might be interested in soon. I found this super helpful and fun. This book would make a great baby registry gift as well.
This may be the first time that you notice them crying real tears. They may stay awake for longer periods and seem more interested than before in the world around them. Just after birth, they were only able to focus on objects that were up to a foot away, but now they can focus at a longer distance. It’s not surprising, therefore, that a baby feels it’s time for some action.The Wonder Weeks
The Kids are in Bed: Finding Time for Yourself in the Chaos of Parenting by Rachel Bertsche
Have you ever found yourself with 30 unexpected minutes to yourself? Then squandered it because you were one or all of the following: tired, analysis paralysis of what to do, went on Instagram, some FOMO, and then suddenly your 30 minutes is up? This book is an amusing look at that conundrum of having time for non-parenting things after you become a parent. I liked that the book talked about “pockets of indulgence.” We have more time than we think, and if you can fit smaller bits of fun into your day, life will feel less chaotic. She also mentions having a list of things at the ready. I remember making a list in the Notes on my phone when I had a newborn called “Things to do by myself” lolol
But what we need—what experts agree could help parents combat unhappiness and make them better, more generous caretakers; what could help make the mental load a little more bearable (and maybe a little more equitable); what could make all time seem less rushed—are what I call pockets of indulgence. Stretches of time, and they can vary in length, that are entirely dedicated to an activity of your choosing. These pockets ideally reconnect you with the person you are outside of being a parent, but at the very least they are enjoyable and relaxing.The Kids Are in Bed Rachel Bertsche
The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being by Simone Davies
I consider myself “Montessori-ish”. Most of the ideas and structure of independence behind Montessori is appealing. We looked at Montessori preschool. With all things, I like to learn from different methods. Montessori, of course, has been around for over a century. Many of the things like practical life skills and self-directed activities are also just old school parenting. Some of the things people consider to be “Montessori”, my mom is like “oh that was just parenting in the 70s/80s”. Ha! And it’s true! Much of it is just more old school parenting. And how my mom raised me. Regardless, I liked this book for different ways to set up your home, stages your kid is at, activities etc.
Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right by Jamie Glowacki
I have a whole post already about our experience with the Oh Crap Potty training method. But I wanted to include this book on the list. I consider it a must-read for a parenting experience that’s going to happen at some point. I skimmed the first few chapters a few months before he turned two. And then I really read it about a month before we planned to start potty training. If you’re in the sweet spot of 20-30 months that she recommends in the book, you’ll probably appreciate her blunt approach. If your kid is already 3, or close to 3, I can imagine her writing style could be a little frustrating and judgy. She’s writing from the angle of hey do this by 2.5. So if you’re past that you might be like “ok cool, glad I missed the boat”.
The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep-Newborn to School Age by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright
There’s so much sleep advice on the Internet and in books. And flowing from the mouths of every mother and grandmother – who apparently all bore champion sleepers. We kind of went with the flow of sleep, er lack thereof, until around 8 months. We had him sleeping in his crib, but in our room from about month 3-6. Around 6 months we moved his crib across the hall into his own room. Coming home after two back to back trips, we realized he needed to learn to fall asleep on his own. I read and skimmed through a few other sleep “methods” and I just didn’t feel like it was our style.
This book still resulted in some “crying it out” nights, but with the tools and emotional support we all needed. The script part is gold. If you’re also working on night weaning, they have a planner to slowly change, and not just cold turkey. I loved the Sleep Wave Planner part with examples. You list your goal for sleep. This might be simple like “He falls asleep on his own”. Or “in a month or so drop to one night feeding” etc. And the mantras are also great. It’s basic, but having something to remind you why you’re doing it will help you stick with it. For example, “He is capable of this now.” “Better sleep will make me a better parent, and him a happier baby” etc.
Note: We had already skimmed through Happiest Baby on the Block before our little one was born. The 5Ss (swaddle, side, shush, swing, suck). The Happy Sleeper is more of a next step from there. I consider these two books to be a baby sleep essential!
Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne
I liked this one for the minimalist vibe. It kind of reminded me of the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown, but a parenting version. When you have a kid, it’s like life just comes out you like MORE MORE MORE. This book was a good reminder to slow down – do less, acquire less, need less. And not to get stuck in the trap of being busy. If you find yourself getting caught up in being busy and over-scheduled and feeling stressed, this book is a reminder to step back. Think about what you imagined your family life would be like and compare that to reality. And what, if any, changes you’d like to make. Konmari your life basically. Some of this book is oversimplified and a little woo-woo (<< a technical term). So if that sounds annoying, don’t read it. Definitely have to be in a certain mood to read it.
A take away for me was not getting sucked into the over-scheduled life for my toddler. If you’re rushing from music class to swim class to tumble to preschool to etc etc every day of the week already. That train isn’t going to slow down on its own.
Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy
This one ran around the news circuits and high courts of public opinion for a while. The author wrote an article originally about letting her 9 year old ride the subway alone. Her book covers a lot more than that high profile story. A lot of the book is about assessing risk and helping your children develop more independence. All while us as parents learn to let go. Her book is basically stuff many of us (who are parents now)were doing in the 80s and 90s. And talking about how it’s actually the safest time to be alive for kids. ??
Mostly, the world is safe. Mostly, people are good. To emphasize the opposite is to live in the world of tabloid TV. A world where the weirdest, worst, least likely events are given the most play. A world filled with worst-case scenarios, not the world we actually live in, which is factually, statistically, and, luckily for us, one of the safest periods for children in the history of the world.
When you find yourself wondering, “WWAD?”—What Would (perfect, beautiful, constantly breastfeeding) Angelina Do? Ask yourself this instead: “WWIDIIJSWTICRMKRHAN?” (“What Would I Do If I Just Stopped Worrying That I Could Ruin My Kid Right Here and Now?”) Maybe we need a catchier slogan. But I think you get the idea.Skenazy, Lenore. Free-Range Kids
Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster
Ok, here’s the .5 “half” book, I mentioned in the title of this post! You may have heard of the author Emily Oster for her pregnancy book, Expecting Better – Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know. (Otherwise known as the book that says it’s ok to have a glass of wine while you’re pregnant). Just like her previous book, this one is an economists perspective on parenting. And all the early childhood decisions we have to make as parents. I appreciate the evidence-based, data driven analysis. I can get really into this kind of data sometimes. So it’s interesting if you’re into this kind of book! Thus the 1/2 book rating I gave it. Overall takeaway though: everything is fine. Pretty much every chapter ended like “and there was little difference between choices” (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea).
It makes sense to take parenting seriously, and to want to make the best choices for your kid and the best choices for you. But there will be many times that you need to just trust that if you’re doing your best, that’s all you can do. Being present and happy with your kids is more important than, say, worrying about bees. At the end, let’s raise a glass to using data where it’s useful, to making the right decisions for our families, to doing our best, and—sometimes—to just trying not to think about it.Cribsheet Emily Oster
I’ve also heard good things about:
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
- Raising an Organized Child: 5 Steps to Boost Independence, Ease Frustration, and Promote Confidence
- The Brave Learner: Finding Everyday Magic in Homeschool, Learning, and Life
- Balanced & Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children
- Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World
- All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood