5 Self-Help Books For Parents That Mums And Dads Say Actually Work

From baby sleep advice to toddler tantrum tips, we asked parents which ones of the thousands published are actually good.
HuffPost UK
HuffPost UK

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Sleep deprivation, fussy eaters, toddler meltdowns, manic routines. If you’re driving yourself mad about at least one of these right now, you’re definitely a parent.

We’re primed to worry – it’s practically part of the job description – but according to paediatrician and author Dr Harvey Karp, we’ve never worried more than we do today.

This may be because many of us have stopped doing what families did years ago, he suggests. Now, we live away from relatives and don’t have the same kind of hands-on support – so we turn to a new kind of ‘extended family’ for guidance: self-help books.

But with thousands of them published, how do you know which ones are any good? We spoke to mum and dads – all of whom are currently at the coalface of parenting – to tell us which ones really worked for them.

Here are the top five, as voted by those who swear by them (and on them, and around them).


“I’ve learned punishing a child for having feelings isn’t going to help”

Review: Matthew Webber, dad of two

“What I like about the book is that it isn’t really focused on your relationship with your child per se, but more about your relationships as a whole. The chapter about your child’s environment is a great example of this – it asks us to look at the way we interact with our partner, friends and family, and consider how our kids learn from these interactions.

“The author also sets up scenarios where an angry child is given an adult voice to express their feelings of frustration or sadness, to help us try and ‘unpack’ those feelings that we, as parents, might not otherwise take the time – or possess the insight – to understand.

“The most difficult thing is following the advice in the heat of the moment. When my five-year-old is in the middle of a 45-minute meltdown at school pick-up because he wants to go to his friend’s house, my instinct is not usually to empathise, but I’ve learned that punishing a child for having feelings isn’t going to help in the long run. It’s also useful for examining possible triggers for things that seem to be irrational.”


“The one book I’ve used as a ‘go to’ manual”

Review: Alli Ingram, mum of four

“This was the one book I’ve used as a ‘go to’ manual over the past 11 years as a mum of four. I like that it’s scientific – it’s given me formulas and understanding about how sleep works, as well as tools to create my own ways of working with my children’s sleep.

“I realised that if something didn’t work, I had to try something else – there wasn’t just one way, because we’re all different and so are babies. The top sleep tip I took from it was that if you keep your child up late, it doesn’t mean they’re going to wake up late! That’s what happens with adults, but with children it’s better to get them down earlier, and then they’ll sleep in later.

“The book also helped me kick my baby’s habit of feeding at night to get back to sleep. It taught me that sometimes, you need to go through something difficult, for long-term happiness.”


“It’s helped so much with frequent toddler meltdowns”

Now Say This, Heather Turgeon

Review: Cath, mum of one

“My sister-in-law recommended this book to me and it’s helped so much with frequent epic toddler meltdowns. Lots of books talk about positive discipline and explain why kids can’t regulate their emotions, but this actually gives practical advice on what method to use in specific scenarios – including what to say (instead of ‘Oh, FFS, what now?’).

“The suggested sentence depends on the scenario, but one I’ve used quite frequently – after lots of warnings that we have to go home from somewhere but they’re refusing – is, “I know you’re having fun, but we really do need to go home now. Would you like to walk by yourself to the car or shall mummy carry you out?” And then following through on that quickly if they don’t come.

“It seems to have lessened the frequency of half an hour of pointless negotiation followed by screaming refusal.”


“Its simple guidelines have formed the foundations of my children’s daily routines”

Sensational Baby Sleep Plan, Alison Scott-Wright

Review: Joe Clapson, author and dad of two

“Coming from a starting position of ‘I don’t need to read a book to learn about being a parent’, I was a hard-sell. However, on the recommendation of a mum whose first child slept for 11-12 hours from early on, I decided to give it a read. And I’m so thankful I did. The book is marvellous and its simple guidelines have formed the foundations of my two children’s daily routines. They have both slept for 11-12 hours since about 11 weeks.

“The pages give a common sense approach to teaching your baby a pattern of sleep from the outset. It taught me that humans need to learn to sleep – it doesn’t come naturally. This concept was a revelation. My wife and I certainly didn’t follow the book to the letter, but we used it as a guide to work around.

“With our first baby, I had wanted to follow a philosophy of having a relaxed and chilled-out approach to parenting. I didn’t want to be militant about a ‘regime’. However, while sticking to that I also quickly realised that the baby was so much happier when well-rested after a full night of sleep. The best way to achieve that was by following a pretty strict set of timings. The book does come in for some criticism from people who view it as anti-breastfeeding, but that didn’t ring true for us at all – and both our kids were exclusively breastfed for a 12 months.”


“It really helped me relax about my daughter’s picky eating”

My Child Won’t Eat! Carlos Gonzales

Review: Hannah, mum of one

“This short book really helped me relax about my daughter’s picky eating and trust her to try things when she’s ready and eat to meet her needs.

“It helped me accept that it was my job to offer her regular, healthy, varied meals with lots of fruit and vegetables and different protein sources, but that it’s her job to choose what and how much to eat. She still mainly chooses carbs, but since I learned to trust her instinct she eats a wider range of foods and is willing to try new things for the first time in 18 months.

“For a kid whose first introduction to foods revealed multiple food allergies, watching me calm down about it all has worked wonders. Top tip: serve food on one massive sharing plate and eat off it together.”

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