A Family Therapist’s Favorite Parenting Resources for Babies and Toddlers - Verily

As a marriage and family therapist, I’ve always had an interest in learning about parenting and family dynamics. Despite my professional training—or maybe because of my particular love for this topic—when I became a parent myself two years ago, I dove into the wealth of resources offered to parents about how to raise children. In the last two years, I’ve found parenting books, podcasts, online classes, smartphone apps, and even Instagram accounts that have resonated with me both as a professional, building upon my training and knowledge, and as mom in the thick of things. Here are a few resources on parenting I’ve found helpful and I hope you will too—whether you’re a new mom or a seasoned grandma!

Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting (book), by Janet Lansbury and Respectful Parenting: Janet Lansbury Unruffled (podcast)

As a mom, it can be hard to find time to read all the awesome books that are out there. That’s just one of the reasons I love Janet Lansbury’s book, because it’s short and super digestible. Each chapter is a separate topic and only about three pages, so you can actually read a full chapter on any given topic in bed each night before falling asleep. But even if Elevating Child Care weren’t doable for the busiest parent, I’d still highly recommend it—Lansbury’s work and insights on respectful parenting are that good. Particularly, she explains and breaks down perhaps the fundamental therapeutic concept for parenting—validation—as well and simply as I’ve seen anyone do. As both a family therapist and a parent, I’m obsessed. If you buy only one parenting book, let this be it.

If you aren’t a book person or want more of Lansbury, check out her podcast, Respectful Parenting: Janet Lansbury Unruffled. The core concepts of respectful parenting she addresses in her books recur throughout the series, and each podcast episode is a response to a very specific parenting topic or listener-submitted question. With over 200 episodes on honed-in issues from “Four tips for keeping your baby explorer safe” to “Traveling with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers,” parents are sure to find the solutions to specific dilemmas they’ve been facing.

(I have not yet started Janet Lansbury’s book specifically on toddlers, No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, but knowing Lansbury’s work and style of writing, I am sure it will not disappoint. While she has some chapters in her first book specifically about toddlers, a whole book that addresses this notoriously difficult time of life for parents may well become a go-to resource for all toddler struggles.)

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids (book), by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

Kim John Payne has worked as a family consultant and counselor to help families struggling with a plethora of problems. This book teaches how keeping life simpler via our family’s routines, toys, mealtimes, activities, and more leads to a happier home life. This book resonated with me personally and professionally. It offers practical tips you can implement to move toward simplicity and illustrates the effects felt by families who do so.

Payne, references specific examples of families he’s worked with, the problems they struggled with, and the solutions he implemented that led to lasting change. The parenting approach presented in Simplicity Parenting addresses many of the issues families commonly seek therapy for, such as children’s behavioral issues, ADHD, or anxiety, as well as everyday concerns such as power struggles, tantrums, and how to be more tuned-in to your child’s needs.

The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (book), by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Dr. Dan Siegel, esteemed neuropsychiatrist, is one of the world’s experts on mindfulness, the popular mental practice and therapeutic technique of intentionally noticing your bodily sensations and thoughts without judgment. I heard about Dr. Siegel, read his work, and watched his talks again and again in graduate school for marriage and family therapy. In this book, Siegel and his co-author, psychotherapist Dr. Tina Payne Bryson, write from their combined expertise on emotional regulation, pediatric psychiatry, interpersonal neurobiology, and attachment theory to make these brain science concepts “accessible” and “immediately helpful.” Their skill is made obvious by the sections at the end of each chapter that break down how to talk to kids as young as four about these concepts and that help you apply each chapter’s strategy to your own adult life. My favorite feature, however, is the age-specific chart at the end of the book that allows you to tailor each strategy to your child’s age.

My New Life, “Talking to Your Child About Race and Racism” (podcast episode)

Having discussions with your children about race is crucial in order to raise the kind, empathic humans we hope our children will be. In this 30-minute episode, guest Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult and Real American: A Memoir and famed TED talk speaker, speaks with My New Life host Jessica Rolph about parents of babies and toddlers of all races and backgrounds. Lythcott-Haims discusses what is wrong with the “colorblind” approach to dealing with race, arguing that you want to help your kids “see that differences do exist, but there is no value of one over the other.” She also addresses practical situations, such as what to do when your toddler makes an awkward comment about race in public. Like many of the other authors on this list, Lythcott-Haims stresses the importance of parents doing their own work in order to raise racially just children—and she offers suggestions for where to start.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and Communicate with Your Baby (book), by Tracy Hogg with Melinda Blau

This book, which is mostly focused on the newborn stage, is not as psychologically explicit as some of the other resources. However, the underlying principles completely align with supporting a child’s psychological and emotional development from the earliest age: babies—no matter how young—are capable of communicating with us, and we can use what they’re telling us to connect with them. “Respect your baby” (i.e. treat her like a person) is a fundamental point that Tracy Hogg, author and “baby whisperer,” repeats throughout the book. As she offers concrete tips for the newborn phase, Hogg helps us be more attuned and attentive to our babies’ needs, especially when communicating with them may be most difficult (or seem impossible) because they are pre-verbal. By learning what our babies are saying to us, we can respond more appropriately, meet their needs, and thus, lay a solid foundation for a lifelong secure attachment.

The Wonder Weeks (app)

The Wonder Weeks app is geared toward the first 18 months of your child’s life. This app tells you when your baby is going through a developmental “leap,” taking her due date as starting point. During leaps, babies are essentially going through mental growth spurts, so the app tells you behavior to expect (usually more crankiness, clinginess, and crying) and what you can do to help your baby through the leap. Wonder Weeks helped my husband and me as parents understand what our daughter was going through, be more patient when it seemed like her behavior suddenly changed, and tailor daily activities to what she was learning and interested in.

While this app is more biological (in its explanations of the baby’s neurodevelopment) and practical (in telling parents how these leaps manifest in their child’s behavior and how parents can best respond) than psychological, Wonder Weeks helps you know what your baby needs and how best to respond to her. Anything that helps us do that as parents ultimately aids us in becoming more attuned parents, and raising more secure children by forming a stronger attachment with them.

Diving into all these resources at once may be a lot. Just dip your toe into what sounds most appealing or relevant to you right now, and take on more as you and your baby grow. Parenting is a lifelong journey, and you learn the most by doing. So, you’ll have plenty of time to consume resources, make mistakes, and try again. You’ve got this, Mama.