Solutions for Parenting Tricky Toddlers: Stepping Stones at JF&CS

March 30, 2022

Solutions for Parenting Tricky Toddlers: Stepping Stones at JF&CS

By Cari Newman, Parent Coach

Many parents who come to see me as the Parent Coach at JF&CS are lonely. These are amazing parents with full lives and a community of friends and loved ones who adore their children. But at the end of the day, when the visits are over, and it’s just one or two grown-ups and their children, many parents feel a deep sense of isolation.

It isn’t easy to articulate how challenging day-to-day parenting can be to those not in the same situation. People have described feeling simultaneously overstimulated and bored, exhausted but unable to stop doing the million things that need doing. Most of all, they have expressed a crushing uncertainty that they are doing anything right. So, they talk to friends, compare milestones, and read a million books by experts who have never met their kids. And usually, they end up with more questions than when they started.

What are parents to do?

Let me introduce you to the innovative Stepping Stones program at JF&CS. The program meets every other week for three months and has three main components.

In one room, the children join a playgroup run by two of JF&CS’s exceptional child and adolescent therapists. The therapists plan and structure each session to meet the needs of the children in the group. While the children think they are playing freely, the therapists have carefully constructed the play experiences to help them stretch and grow in areas like emotion regulation, following routines and directions, and exploring family patterns.

The parents create a learning community in a separate room nearby with another child and family therapist and JF&CS’s parent coach. Each adult session focuses on one central concept, like family values, child development, and the range of “normal” behavior, why and how to create routines, structures, and rituals that help children feel safe, and emotion regulation. They begin with a “crash course” on each concept and leave ample time for continued exploration, role-playing, and discussion about parents’ pressing questions.

Toward the end of each session, families reunite for snacks and individualized feedback from the playgroup about each child. Parents who have ongoing concerns about their children have this opportunity to get a professional’s opinion and think about the next steps. One opportunity, for example, is an ongoing monthly parenting group that is only open to Stepping Stones “graduates.”

The Stepping Stones program provides an inventive approach to meeting the needs of children and parents simultaneously. It creates a supportive peer community that parents desire when they feel incredibly alone and uncertain. It also gives parents informal access to the incredibly knowledgeable JF&CS therapists while providing a supportive and highly supervised playtime for the children. This program exemplifies one of the main goals of the Horwitz-Zusman Child and Family Center: to support the entire family system.

To learn more about the upcoming cohort of the Stepping Stones program, visit the Stepping Stones webpage.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach in parenting, and the target is constantly in motion. No matter how confused, exhausted, or disheartened you feel, there is hope and support for your family. If you’d like to work with me one-on-one on any parenting issues, please reach out to

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