Monday, June 1, 2009

Book Review -- The Happiest Toddler on the Block

I've been thinking I should review the parenting books I read (and maybe others eventually) on the blog, so here goes nothing!

So the first book I'll review is The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.

In the beginning of the book Karp describes toddlers as little cave people. He says that we, as parents, often assume toddlers are little adults but they are far from it. In fact, they are far from being even little children. I really liked the metaphor of toddlers as cave people and Beanie totally seems to fit the bill!

Since I have a big interest in psychology and neuropsychology I really enjoyed (read -- devoured) the section describing how toddler's brains are out of balance. Karp discusses how toddlers are slave to their right brains and how, due to the fight or flight response all of us experience, when they are upset the left half of the brain basically shuts down and the already dominant right half takes complete control. Karp describes the right half of the brain as "distractible, impulsive, and emotional." Yup, sounds like a toddler to me.

Karp focuses a lot on learning to communicate with your little cave dweller. When we, as parents, talk to our toddler as though they are little adults, or even little children, their primitive brains can't understand. We use too many words. Karp introduces the fast food rule and Toddler-ese. The fast food rule is "before telling an upset person your point of view, first repeat back how he's feeling." You know, like when you go through the drive thru at McDonalds and order the employee repeats back your order and then tells you the cost and to pull through to the first window. Toddler-ese is "a special language that's supereffective with upset toddlers made up of 3 simple steps: short phrases, lots of repetition and mirroring a bit of the child's feelings." And, yes, Toddler-ese does feel like a foreign language to me! It does make sense though so I am continuing to try.

Since the beginning of Karp's book was so interesting to me, I was really excited to see how he proposed dealing with what he calls green -, yellow -, and red-light behaviors. I was, however, sort of disappointed with his techniques, especially for yellow- and red-light behaviors.

I'll start with the green-light (or good) behaviors though, because I did think he had some pretty good ideas there. To promote green-light behaviors, Karp talks about time-ins. I really liked his ideas of star charts (a plus since Beanie is a huge fan of stickers and stamps). And what better way to promote good behavior than to reward it with a little time-in of play, praise and extra attention? He talks about giving options, playing the boob (basically acting like a dork...nothing to do with boobies for real!), teaching patience, creating routines, and planting seeds of kindness. I really enjoyed the green-light chapter of the book and thought there were plenty good ideas to take away from it.

But what do parents really want to know? How to curb bothersome or bad behavior, right? So, like any parent, I was pretty excited to move on to the yellow- and red-light chapters. This is where I got pretty disappointed though. I liked Karp's ideas for curbing yellow-light behaviors before they even start but his approaches to dealing with them when they do occur didn't sit too well with me. The first is the clap-growl. The clap-growl is "several loud claps followed by a low growl that is both a warning and a mild consequence that all cave-kids understand." The funny thing is that Glenn had been clap - no- ing to Beanie and it rubbed me the wrong way. After reading about it in Karp's book I asked him if he had too. He said no, so I guess clap-growl is instinctual to some extent, just not for me?! I guess the clapping doesn't bother me as much as the growling. It just gives me the wrong feeling in the pit of my stomach. The second technique is kind ingnoring. I agree that sometimes kiddos are doing annoying behaviors just because it is grabbing your attention, but turning your back and ignoring them gives me the idea that you are letting them think they are bad not that the behavior is bad. I did really like when Karp talked about forging win-win compromises with your toddler. He states that, in a toddler's mind, "fair" is not them winning 50% of the time, not even 60 or 70% of the time, but more like 90%. So, if you give in on the smaller things (like Beanie wanting to wear her water shoes all the time), then you can "win" on the bigger issues.

Red-light behaviors are dangerous behaviors that need to be stopped immediately. Dangerous or just breaking some important rules you have set as a family. Karps' techniques for dealing with red-light behaviors are time outs or giving a fine. As you can imagine from my "issues" with kind ignoring I don't really like the whole time-out idea. Giving a fine sits a little better with me, but Karp does say it works best for toddlers over age 3. I did like Karp's section on toddlers and saying "I'm sorry." He says that you should ask your toddler to say they're sorry, but not to insist on it.

Overall, I think it was a worthwhile read. You take some, you leave with any parenting advice, right? I'm still on the hunt for some better techiniques for curbing bothersome and bad behaviors....



    I liked the book as well...though there was some good stuff and I also did not agree with the growl - or the clap. To each it's own...

    I have been through tons of early childhood training and one of the best parenting classes has been Incredible Years - you should take a look at their site. I am also a fan of Dr. Sears. Again, there is parts I may opt out of but I have gotten some very valuable info from both.

    IY is out of Seattle a million years ago. The woman is brilliant. Let me know what you think if you decide to investigate.

  2. Thanks Bri! I'll have to check out that book. And I LOVE Dr. Sears.

    I just ordered The No Cry Discipline Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. I liked the No Cry Sleep Solution, so I'm interested to see what she has to say about discipline.

  3. Interesting stuff. I've been meaning to get the book myself, but I simply cannot seem to find the time to read these days... maybe if I spent less time on the computer??

    The growling thing seems odd to me - I find myself doing the clap sometimes, I think as a way to distract and get attention focused on me? But the growling part just reminds me of the Dog Whisperer or something, and I am TRYING to distinguish between my toddler and my dog! :-)

  4. Hi Kristen,

    Thank you for your interest in Dr. Harvey Karp's work as well as for writing a great review!

    As with any parenting information (Dr. Karp's included) he encourages parents to stick with the parts that make sense & work best for their own families.

    If you have any questions regarding Dr. Karp's Baby or Toddler techniques please let us know.

    Kindest wishes,
    Kristen Terry
    The Happiest Baby, Inc.
    (310) 207-1111


Thank you for taking the time to comment! I love to hear from you.