Monday, May 23, 2011

Book review: The Happiest Toddler on the Block

Lately I've been reading a lot of library books. And I mean a lot. I love to read, and until recently spent all that time on Google Reader, but having a toddler draws me away from the glowing screen and forces me to ... connect with my environment? Well, just read paper books. It's a step, right?

On Friday I plowed through The Happiest Toddler on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp. (I'm kind of a speed reader ... John is always commenting on how fast my eyes go back and forth on the page. But it is a pretty quick read.) I've already read his previous book, which is about comforting colicky babies.

This book uses evolution to explain why toddlers are the way they are. Karp believes that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny," which means, "human development mimics human evolution." Personally, I thought that theory was debunked years ago, but it is a kind of clever way to describe things anyway. Basically, he says that 12-18 months is the "charming chimp-child" stage, during which toddlers are a lot like chimps because their brains and knowledge haven't developed complex language or fine motor skills yet. From 18 to 24 months, they are "Knee-High Neanderthals," then "Clever Cave-Kids" at two and "Versatile Villagers" at three.

I really don't think we know as much about the Neanderthals and cavemen as he thinks we do, and I sure can see a lot of differences between toddlers and early humans. But, on the other hand, it is a nice gimmick to frame his book, and it does help you understand toddlers a little better. For instance, Marko's not a chimp. But I do better if I don't expect him to be a rational, communicative child, but rather more like a chimp would be -- friendly, interested, but not able to understand most of what I say or communicate what's going on in that head of his.

I certainly agreed when Karp criticized the way we try big-kid tactics on toddlers. For instance, saying, "Gee, I know how you feel, but cheer up, we will be going home soon." That's all wasted breath when talking to a screaming toddler. In fact, most things that would work on a four-year-old just don't work on a one-year-old.

I haven't yet tried Karp's method, though. He says that when a toddler flips out, we should get down on their level and empathize with them in "toddlerese." For instance, when the toddler is banging on the door, screaming, we should first imitate their feelings by saying, "You want OUT! Out! Out! Out!" Then, after the baby has miraculously calmed down (does this really work?), we should communicate what we want through simple words and gestures. ("Stay in! Have cookie!" Or whatever.)

Like I said, I haven't tried it, and I'm a tad skeptical. But I plan to give it a shot and see how it does. Marko doesn't throw many fits, and if he does, it means he's tired and cranky and nothing will work but a nap. But, according to Karp, things will get a lot worse when he's a "Knee-High Neanderthal" in a few months, so I'd best be on the lookout.

I did disagree with a few things Karp said. For instance, he claims that the caveman was the first stage that had "indoor bathrooms," and therefore potty training should be done at two. Maybe that's the first indoor bathrooms that have been discovered, but I bet Neanderthals weren't wearing diapers either. I mean, hamsters have toilet corners in their cages. Animals of almost any age and stage of development prefer not to sit in their own waste (of course there are exceptions, like pigeons and poo-flinging monkeys) and babies can learn to use the potty from birth, if the parents are so inclined. A lot of people do it around the world, so there's no need to claim kids are incapable of this.

On the other hand, I loved learning about the development of toddlers. Apparently the reason Marko can't use a spoon yet is that his cerebellum isn't developed enough yet to allow his wrist to swivel. In a couple of months, it will be and he will finally be able to eat his own yogurt without help! (Yogurt is his current favorite food. If I give it to him in a bowl, he drinks it ... pouring half of it down his shirt in the process.) It's so neat seeing how babies unfold and develop on their own ... so much of what they learn, we don't have to teach them at all.

I'd recommend the book, if you have the time and can get it from the library. It's not a "parenting library essential," though. The only books (so far) that I would count in mine are Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, by Penny Simkin, and The Baby Book, by Dr. Sears. I'm still looking for other good ones, though. Once I find a must-have book, I get a copy and then lend it out to people forever. Call me the evangelist of good parenting books.

(Oh, P.S. The No-Cry Sleep Solution is good too. And the No-Cry Naptime Solution is probably even better. They're both by Elizabeth Pantley. I don't own either, though.)

5 comments:

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

I'm with you on being skeptical about using "toddler-eeze." I always speak to my kids with full language and their language development shows it. I agree that understanding cognitive development is important to grasp what to say and how to say it, but I've had better experience with rich language. They get the gist of our connection or disconnection, if not necessarily the precise words.

Have you read "What's Going On in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop the First Five Years of Life?" It's got its issues, but I enjoyed understanding neurological capabilities

Sarah Faith said...

I agree, you'd like What's Going On In There and probably also Your Child's Growing Mind. As far as parenting books, get the Popcaks' book Parenting with Grace. It's a Catholic parenting staple as far as I'm concerned! A read and re-read.

By the way that "trick" does work. I learned about it a while ago and was amazed. My 2yo was throwing a fit in the library b/c he wanted to bring home a stuffed animal. I got down to his level and said "You really want that! You want to bring it home! It's so cute, and snuggly!" he calmed down immediately and I continued about how we needed to leave it at the library to play with next time. He handed it back and walked out without a whimper. I was goggle eyed. :) Some call it "active listening" for toddlers. :)

Michelle said...

Hi! I just found your blog while looking for liturgical (Catholic/Anglican) AP blogs. For a moment I thought you were still in Seattle and I felt we could have been friends! I am 25 with a 12 month old girl. But alas, you are in DC. I will be coming back to your blog, however. I have been on a quest to make my day-to-day life with my girl (and hubby, too, though he's working most of the day) more liturgical and purposeful, seeking God in the very small things, while incorporating my ap lifestyle. :)

Sheila said...

Wow, I am going to have to keep my eyes open for an opportunity to try that, Sarah! I have heard that technique mentioned in relationship books, as well (I think "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus") -- repeat what you think the person said, so they know you got it.

Normally I do speak in grown-up language to my toddler, more or less. Looks like I've got a lot to add to my reading list! Wonder if the library has any of these?

Michelle, it's too bad I'm not still there! I had a really hard time meeting people when I was in Seattle, so I know how you might feel. I hope you enjoy my blog... though I'm afraid I don't incorporate the liturgy very much in what I write. One you might like is Momopoly (katewicker.com). I read that regularly and really enjoy it.

Maggie said...

I've read this book before - it was really interesting! I have tried twice to talk to my toddler like a caveman and I felt ridiculous. lol. BUT that's not to say it wouldn't work if I tried again! I didn't like this book as much as his "Happiest Baby", but you're right that they're fast reads. That's my kind of book. ;)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...