Read With Mother – the best books for raising toddlers

When our babies are about the size of a lemon and live in our wombs, we have plentiful books guiding us through the dos and don’ts and weird sensations of pregnancy and if you’re anything like me, you consult your chosen tome each and every day in a bid to understand what’s happening and what’s about to happen next. Then when the babies emerge and are between 30 and 70cm long, there are plenty of books to tell you what they should and shouldn’t be doing on a month-by-month basis, and if you’re anything like me then you read those about weekly to check your child is not somehow going hideously wrong. (They rarely are, but it’s sometimes good to be reminded of that).

Then, around the time of the first birthday, when “length” becomes “height” because your former baby is now standing at least some of the time, the books somehow become less important. There are still plenty of them – as we will see below, most of the popular franchises extend into the second year and beyond – it’s just that if I read them ever then it’s between once a month and once every quarter. This may be a sign that things really do get easier after twelve months; or it may be a sign that I trust myself more now to know what I’m doing; or a bit of both or perhaps I just have no time to read books now that I’m perpetually snowed under with pesky work.

You may, as ever, have a different experience. You may love reading giant childcare compendiums from cover to cover. Assuming however that you’re as time-poor as I am, and reasonably confident in your own childrearing abilities, but that you still enjoy dipping into a baby book from time to time, here are the books on toddling that made the cut now that I’ve got a lot pickier:

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers (Tracy Hogg and Melinda Blau)
This chirpily-written second installment in the popular Baby Whisperer series continues in much the same vein as the first book: that is to say, a bit like if Daphne out of Frasier was a nanny instead of a physiotherapist and wrote a book about childcare instead of marrying Niles. Some people might find the constant stream of comedy Northern aphorisms a bit much (Doncaster-born Hogg likes to pepper the text with phrases like “As my Nan used to say, One on’t cross beams gone out askew on ‘treadle“) but there are some useful ideas in here.

Key concept: where the first book brought us the idea of EASY (that’s Eat, Activity, Sleep, You-Time as a structuring concept to bring order to your day without going full Gina Ford), Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers introduces HELP. That’s where you Hold Yourself Back and refrain from doing everything for your toddler, to give them a chance to achieve things for themselves; Encourage Exploration by providing opportunity to do a combination of achievable and slightly more challenging stuff; Limit by not providing an overwhelming degree of choice (and by setting appropriate boundaries to the experiments you encourage the exploring of); and Praise.

As a former teacher this all makes ample sense to me. Don’t do everything for your child. Let them try stuff, but don’t set them a task they are not yet physically or emotionally capable of. Praise when they get it right – skills and behaviour both. HELP your baby become a child. EASY, innit?

What to Expect: The Second Year (Heidi Murkoff)
Murkoff really cornered the pregnancy book market with her first bestselling text, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and the franchise has since expanded into an online brand, app and Alexa “skill” as well as a series of equally bestselling books on the first and second years.

Key concept: WTE isn’t really concept-driven,  it’s more a compendium of facts about (respectively) pregnancy issues, baby development and toddler milestones. If there’s one unifying feature of the series, however, it’s the gratuitous overuse of brackets.

If you’re a huge fan – as some of us surely are – of parenthetical text, mid-sentence breaks (what fun!) and the rhetorical apostrophe (inside pairs of commas, dashes or brackets) then this book will not annoy you as much as it annoys me. But paragraph after paragraph (and within that, sentence after sentence) is written with multiple breaks; what starts out sounding chatty when you read it in your head (if you read in your head!) ends up becoming a major distraction….if you can make it to the end of the paragraph without throwing the book at the wall.

Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating for comic effect; dear reader, I assure you the structure of the above paragraph was lifted clause for clause from the start of WTETSY Chapter 2. So, yeah. That.

If you want to check the progress of your toddler against age-related milestones, try the website instead, it’s been subbed a bit more sanely.

The Wonder Weeks (Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij)
This one isn’t a toddler book per se, but one that starts at birth and takes you to around 75 weeks (just under a year and a half).

Key concept: Your baby becomes a child in a series of predictable, age-related “leaps”. Each leap encompasses a set of new skills and ways of understanding the world, often preceded by a fussy (or “stormy”) period of 1-4 weeks while this leap is taking place, and followed by a “sunny” period where the new skills are enjoyed. This book helps you predict and calm the stormy times, encourage the skills and enjoy the period after each leap.

Wondering why your baby/toddler has gone all cranky recently? Check your calendar and see if a leap is on the way. I found this one really useful and definitely recommend it for decoding and understanding the equally frustrating and rewarding process of very early childhood development; it’s also available in app form.

The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep (Harvey Karp M.D.)
Another installment in a franchise, and another instance of a 200-page book spun out of what should have been a 20-page pamphlet, The Happiest Baby nonetheless has some useful ideas and info which I will now impart to you so you can save yourself a fiver.

Key concept: In The Happiest Baby, paediatrician Dr Harvey Karp introduces the concept of the Fourth Trimester and the 5 Ss (swaddling; lying on a side or stomach position; shushing; swinging and sucking) which made our first twelve weeks with Scarlett a lot happier. The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep extends the principle of the 5S routine to create a bedtime ritual that, like the 5Ss, clues your toddler in to the idea that sleep is on the way and helps them wind down and get ready for bed.

There’s no real rocket science here: have a bath, do a massage if you like, dim the lights, tell a story and let your child say good night to all their bears; but it’s sometimes helpful to be reminded of how to create a bedtime routine if you’ve fallen down the freelancer’s well of responding to stupid client requests over email on your phone at 1am instead of going the damned hell to sleep. So maybe it was a good read for me with regard to myself and my own bedtime habits as well as Scarlett’s. Dr Karp also recommends teaching calming and self-soothing techniques such as magic breathing (which looks a lot like yoga breathing, but obviously better because magic).


Do you have a toddler book that helped you through the second year, is available for digital download and doesn’t contain far too many irritating parentheses? Or do you think toddler books are a lousy racket and we should just use our own parental common sense? Answers on the back of a discarded swaddling blanket, or in the comments below:


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