The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old: Revised Edition (Paula Spencer and Harvey Karp)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
More reassuring than educational, this is an easy-to-read, humorous collection of parenting advice dealing with how to manage your pesky toddler from their first step through the terrible twos and beyond.  Drawing a lot of parallels between the developmental patterns of cavemen, chimps, and toddlers, Harvey argues that if we can communicate on the toddler’s level (or the caveman level), we can soothe, reassure, and diffuse tantrums quickly.  Though it is entertaining, it is long on analogies and anecdotes, and short on delivering what it really promises – a too-good-to-be-true, one-style-fits-all solution.  Consider it reassurance that others have also struggled, and take the solutions with a grain of salt.

Greater Detail:
Dr. Harvey Karp has drawn on years of experience as a pediatrician to come up with a series of suggestions on how to communicate and effectively parent your toddler. The first part of the book is a prolonged explanation of how similar toddlers are to cavemen (that they have ineffective command over their persons and digits, that they have short attention spans, that they can’t communicate verbally).  While an interesting analogy, it doesn’t ultimately bring much to the task at hand – how to make your kid the “happiest toddler.”

Later chapters, while still building upon the similarities between children and their evolutionary counterparts, focus a little more on offering explicit solutions.  The problem is that the book seems to overreach, and the advice is couched more in terms of “this will work” as opposed to “one thing you could try…” After a while, this becomes grating.  Every parent or teacher — anyone who has associated even a little bit with children, really — will tell you that all kids are different, all parents are different, and solutions necessarily need to be adjustable to deal with varying styles and personalities. Though Karp spends time talking about how each child is unique, a snowflake, and different a thumbprint, ultimately, he tries to categorize and offer broad solutions.  Advocating that growling and/or screaming to imitate your child when they’re having a tantrum is an interesting idea, and probably worth a shot for parents really at their wits’ end.  However, continually asserting that these ideas will somehow transform your child feels not only unrealistic, but borderline insulting.

That said, it was mostly fun and entertaining and if you take it as such, it’s quite harmless.  I don’t know that I truly learned anything, but reading it was a little like being in group therapy – you get to hear all of the terrible failures others have had, and gain a couple of interesting ideas to try out (I liked the ideas of taking your child through your home and pointing out each object, storing and rotating toys, or reflecting what your child is saying, as though you’re repeating their fast food order before giving advice and cuddling, etc).  Many of his strategies are really common-sense reconfigurations – don’t be too impatient, threatening never works, avoid negative labels (devil-child is hurtful; say courageous instead of defiant, selective instead of fussy, etc), use positive reinforcement models like rewarding good behavior, and so on.  Though there are some slightly more controversial suggestions, like bribing your child with ice cream after a doctor’s appointment, ultimately, it felt more like a book you read to reassure yourself in your worthiness as a parent, as opposed to actually being informative.


Comparisons to Other Authors:
I really haven’t read enough parenting/toddler books to have a good way to compare… but in terms of other baby books, I found this to be on the less helpful side relative to those…

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