Kelli’s excellent question about toddler-discipline has got me thinking again about one of my favorite child-rearing experts and the book that has perhaps influenced my parenting the most in the past twelve months.
One of the things I like most about Harvey Karp is his very soothing, empathetic writing style. This is helpful when problem-solving wild toddler behavior — he makes you feel like it is perfectly normal to be frustrated by your child! (He could just as easily name this book The Happiest Parent on the Block.) Just like in his first book, Karp does a great job of looking at the world from the child’s and parents’ perspectives, and then offers some good ideas about how to make everyone happy.
The author’s basic premise is that toddlers are essentially like little cavemen or Neanderthals. Since they just aren’t as physically, socially, and emotionally developed as adults, we need to address them at their level. Karp is not trying to be condescending here — he’s just acknowledging that, although they are growing at an incredible rate, they aren’t quite ready for us to respond to them with logical answers and multi-step tasks.
So, parents get a crash-course in cross-generational communication, including lots of loud words, short phrases, and enthusiasm. Karp encourages parents to get down on the child’s level and speak “toddler-ese” to empathize with their intense emotions. “YOU WANT! YOU WANT COOKIE! LUCY WANT COOKIE NOW! NOW NOW NOW!,” he would probably tell me to say. Once Lucy understands that we hear her intense gastronomical desire, that is the point when we can help her move on with logic. “You want the cookie. But no cookie before supper. Let’s eat some grapes instead!” While this method of speaking toddler-ese requires a certain loss of inhibition, I found that it worked quite well most of the time, especially when Lucy didn’t have much in the way of language skills.
Karp offers instructions on disciplinary tactics (including time-outs, loss of privileges, and reward-systems) and explains how to vary these according to your child’s age. I also really appreciated suggestions toward the end of the book on tackling particular topical challenges — new siblings, potty training, fears, and lots more.
But the thing I like most about Harvey Karp is the way he views toddlers as little people, not problems to be solved. He seems to really love and respect children, and that is just the kind of person from whom I want to learn about parenting!
Considered in this review: The Happiest Toddler on the Block, by Harvey Karp.