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.

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