Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book Review: The Happiest Toddler on the Block

Author: Dr. Harvey Karp
ISBN: 0553384422
Publisher: Bantam
Format: Paperback
Published: August 2008
No. of pages: 336 pages
Available for loan from: National Library Board (
Price: S$22.17 (
Suitable for: Parents of 8 – 36 months old
Verdict: Recommended (3.5 / 5)

The sequel to Dr. Karp’s best-seller, The Happiest Baby on The Block, this book aims to get frazzled parents through the trying terrible two’s and three’s by teaching parents how to boost their child’s good behavior, curb annoying behavior and immediately stop unacceptable actions with a highly effective green light / yellow light / red light method for moulding toddler behaviour. Written in his trademark friendly, humourous and engaging manner, it is easy for parents to digest the information after a long day.

What I loved most are the insights it gave into my toddler’s mind – which make it a worthy read, even if the positive discipline methods don’t work. It explains why toddlers behave as they do and how to help them traverse their pre-historic world to become civilized pre-schoolers. Obviously, I don’t remember what life is like as a toddler and often assume that toddler J is a little adult and treat him as such. However, I found that it only made his tantrums worse when I tried to reason with him during a meltdown, or try to counter his escalating emotions with calm, low-key responses and lengthy explanations. The book helped me to understand that toddlers are far from being rational or logical, much less an adult. I found that he sometimes calmed down more quickly when I used Dr. Karp’s Toddler-ese and ‘Fast-Food Rule’ which is basically talking at your toddler's level when he or she is upset by using and repeating short, simple sentences and mirroring their emotions. This technique enhances the ability of children to label their emotions by providing them with the correct vocabulary. Toddler-ese needs practice and patience. It isn’t easy to master (and is sometimes embarrassing to use in public). I’m certainly no expert, but, it certainly does get easier over time. I don’t use it all the time, usually only when I feel that my normal way of defusing a situation won’t work. I noticed that it defuses potentially tantrum-causing situations. Toddler J sometimes looks at me with a ‘hey, mommy understands me so I don’t have to yell’ expression, calms down and is able to wait till I can attend to him or distracts himself with something else.

The rest of the book has lots of great reminders about how to best communicate with our toddlers so that they feel respected and loved, while we parents get the essential outcomes we need and want to keep our kids safe and our homes sane. While some of his advice is common sense, e.g. clear and consistent limits, Dr Karp gives numerous suggestions on boosting good behavior e.g. patience stretching, so parents can choose to use those they feel most comfortable with. I haven’t used his ‘clap-growl’ method yet – which I find a little too prehistoric! My main grouse is with the book’s layout because it classifies the methods into green light / yellow light / red light, yet not all methods are suitable for younger ones around 1 year old. I would have much preferred the methods to be classified by age instead of having to flip through the book to find them.

About the Author(s)
Dr. Harvey Karp is a nationally renowned pediatrician, child development specialist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine. He completed medical school training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in NYC, pediatric residency at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and fellowships in ambulatory pediatrics and child development at UCLA. In pediatric practice, for almost 30 years, Dr. Karp has taught thousands of parents, from working moms to superstars like Madonna, Michelle Pfeiffer and Pierce Brosnan his secrets for soothing colic, boosting infant sleep, reducing tantrums, promoting patience and making parents and children happy.

Balancing Organic & Conventional Food

A fairly recent convert to organic products, I used to be skeptical about organic food… sure, I’ve heard all about the goodness of organic food but, like many people, was put off by the high prices. Over the past year or so, I’ve gradually become more convinced that organic is truly better: not just for our bodies, but also tastes better and is environmentally friendly. I have become more educated about nutrition, having learnt about the effects of ingredients such as sugar and salt on our bodies. It took me some time to find a balance between conventional and organic products and to buy wisely. As much as I wish to prepare everything from scratch, use 100% organic, etc… it is highly unrealistic, because like everyone else, I have constraints such as finances, time, health, and other day to day pressures.

When baby J started having solids, we started him on as much organic produce as we could afford – and it was easy to prepare his food, mainly steaming and cutting into bite size pieces or mashing. Since he eats so little, it is inevitable that our help was needed to finish the food. As he becomes older, I’ve started to include his portion in family meals and meal preparation became slightly more complicated, compounded with the difficulty of putting together a decent meal with a toddler literally hanging onto my legs. I struggled to find a balance between having a healthy lifestyle, home-cooked meals, while being time-pressured and making sure that we aren’t spending everything we have on food!

Hence, currently I purchase organic products if it is for baby J, if we are consuming it raw e.g. salads, or if it is a processed product e.g. cereals, cookies. I particularly focus on processed products because I was so frustrated trying to decipher nutrition and ingredient labels of conventional products - particularly those that list items in vague manner by using E numbers (who on earth can remember what all these numbers represent?!) or stating items like “permitted flavourings”, “permitted preservatives”. None of these tell me what I’m consuming, thus defeating their raison d’ĂȘtre! I found that organic or natural products are labeled in a manner that I can understand and tend to use better quality ingredients like sea salt instead of conventional table salt (which is a chemically derived product devoid of vital minerals) and healthier natural sweeteners like agave nectar or juice concentrates.

Ultimately, I feel so much better knowing that we are reducing our consumption of artificial flavourings, pesticides and artificial preservatives. This peace of mind and the potential savings on medical bills are worth the money spent on organic foods and natural health solutions. I have reached the conclusion that while it may be hard to go 100% organic, something is better than nothing – one just needs to determine the most suitable path to take after prioritizing financial and health concerns.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Organic? Natural? What's the Difference?

I recently had a conversation about natural vs organic produce and how it is important to distinguish between the two. Natural products can sometimes be priced as high as organic products, so whenever an organic version is available, I highly recommend choosing that over the natural alternative. One day, I came across this nifty little table on a cereal box that clears up all the confusion between organic and natural products so do read the label!

Ingredients / ProcessingOrganicNaturalConventional
Artificial flavoursNONoMay be used
Artificial coloursNONoMay be used
Artificial preservativesNONoMay be used
Artificial fertilizersNOMay be usedMay be used
Artificial pesticidesNOMay be usedMay be used
IrradiationNOMay be usedMay be used
G.M. IngredientsNOMay be usedMay be used

Furthermore, organic products are required to undergo testing in order to qualify for the certification, whereas, no certification is required for natural products.

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