Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"The Happiest Toddler" by Harvey Karp: a review & what I took home from this book

"The Happiest Toddler on the Block: how toeliminate tantrums and raise a patient, respectful, and cooperative one-tofour- year- old"- by Harvey Karp, MD

I believe the first year is all about keeping the child healthy, marinating him in love and providing the needed safety blanket. Somewhere in the second year we need to establish some amount of discipline and THAT becomes THE MOST difficult part in parenting! Especially if you have a demanding, hot tempered, rigid and self-centred Neanderthal like ours! (Although Harvey Karp uses these very words to describe most toddlers!)

It's important to establish the green / yellow / red light behaviour early on not just to develop a better human being but also because NOBODY likes an ill-mannered child! People may or may not understand what you are going through, they may or may not be polite, but MOST LIKELY they do not want to be in the same room as a screaming toddler! (Although when a tantrum does happen in public I DONT cringe in embarrassment let alone be bothered by others, but the overall objective is to avoid them as much as possible!)

How to use this book:

This book is an OCEAN of useful tips. The reason I recommend it is because I agree with Karp's overall philosophy and that there isn't any ONE magic formula to it. There are a million! And the best way to make use of this ocean is to revisit it every now and then. (If you think reading it only once will suffice, you are wrong and will most likely go fumbling and BLANK when you need it the most!)

A toddler's Mind & Temperament:

Karp begins with explaining the basic make up of a toddlers mind, explaining how and why the behaviour we find over the top and illogical is perfectly normal from their point of view. According to the easy/shy/spirited temperament chart, my tiny tot leans heavily towards easy (6/9) as against spirited (3/9) (whaaat? If THIS is easy I shudder to think of what is spirited!). Once you see things from the little caveman's point of view it's easier to stay calm (and not bang your head against the nearest wall.)

Eliminating tantrums even before they start:

Focusing on the GOOD ("green light" behaviour) he explains the big benefits of on "time-In's" (the opposite of Time-Outs), I.e. ways to eliminate tantrums even before they begin. For eg, since his birth I've known that things works best when we follow a ROUTINE. Sleep and eat times are not to be compromised, and I'll rather miss a party than deal with the resulting crankiness (Missing his sleep time = staying up really late = waking up late = followed by the similar vicious cycle the next day= crankiness= mom sleep deprived and pulling out hair and generally everyone screaming at each other!) It is difficult to explain to friends and family but if they don't understand, so be it.

Many short periods of focused attention, bits of praise, gossiping abt how "good" he is behaving, and focusing on outside play, creative activity and reading: these are few of the many that dramatically improves good behaviour.

Whiny and "not in the mood":

What I liked a lot were his tips on building confidence: making your child feel smart/ strong / fast by making yourself seem like a klutz, confused, pompously incorrect, pushover, ridiculous, weak. These instantly lighten up his sullen moods!

I cannot be a very strict mom (I don't even wish that!) and I let a lot of things just be (Letting a child be a child they say). For eg, everytime we got home from school, he would jump into the front seat of a car and play out his fantasies with the steering wheel and all those delightful buttons. The keys would obv be in my pocket while I would while away time in the co-driver’s seat. This would happen every time and at times well over an hour! I didn't coerce, bribe or tempt him out (unless I really had to go) and I would let him be done with it on his own. So as a rule he isn't allowed in the front seat when we are driving, but he knows it's ok once we have reached home and parked. It's fun to watch the immense pleasure he gets by being in the driver’s seat and considering its harmless (keys in my pocket, I'm sitting next to him) I allow him to get it out of his system. This "phase" started wearing out after a couple of solid months

Taming Tantrums:

Take the car obsession for an example once again . What if we did have to leave early and cut short his fun? He would def throw a fit, scream "nooooo," and refuse to budge! Karp's tip that worked well was ADRESSING what he wanted first, that too REPEATEDLY, which diffused the tension dramatically. I would say "CAR? Car? Manav wants to stay in the car? Ya?" Which automatically turned his screaming into normal pitched, teary "ya!". It is as Karp describes as being an "ambassador" to a child and speaking in HIS language ("toddler-ese") so he knows that you ALSO WANT him to continue playing and that you don't REALLY WANT to take his fun away, BUT we still have to go because of x-y-z and we will come back again! Tomorrow! After school! And so on so forth.

It ain't a fool proof method but more often not it at least softens his stand.

Yellow & Red light behaviour:

I cannot be too strict but being strict is must for yellow/ red light behaviour. the key is consistent behaviour, and to avoid distraction (which only worked when he was still a baby), ridicule (a strict no no), threats ("stop now or I'll stop you!") and yelling (okay I do a bit of yelling. Okay a lot of yelling. Sigh). If there is no underlying behaviour (hunger, fatigue etc) he is simply testing his boundaries, so we need to establish some!

If say he's drawing with chalk over the couch cover, my tone will immediately be serious and deep, meaning business, NEVER babyish, sing song-y. I give him a few warnings (No! no chalk on the couch!) but if he persists, I simply take his chalks away and put him high up on the top shelf. Then I allow him to cry/beg/pester me for a minute or so, all along which I'll repeat "No chalk on the couch!" And finally give it back to him. MOST of the time it works and he doesn't Repeat behaviour.

If it's some other behaviour (where there isn't anything to "take away" from him) I use the Time-Out tool. Say he is spitting all over the couch and I give him a couple of serious toned "No! no spitting!"s and he still persists, I put him in his Time-Out room, with a timer. He cries EVERYTIME while I repeat "no spitting" a couple of times. When time out it is over and the timer buzzes, I don't linger over the topic and it's all forgotten. He doesn't spit again of course. (He may the next day! But not then and there).

Most times the 'fault' lies with us, instead of putting ourselves in their shoes we want it to be the other way around. But I wouldn't really call it a fault cuz its too strong a word! You may do everything right and yet a MANY times NO technique will work. You just got to take deep breaths, not take things too seriously and wait for it to pass! (By 'it' I mean the entire toddlerhood!) Having a disciplined well behaved two year old 24/7 is purely theoretic, but little steps go a long way. This book gives that little help. After all we do want to have the happiest toddler and the happiest family on the block!

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