The Happiest Toddler on the Block | Reflections & Notes

Dr. Harvey Karp. The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year-Old. Bantam Books, 2008. (303 pages)


Who has time to read a parenting book? They’re all too long, and there’s SO MUCH advice, it’s hard to know where to start. So, as with other parenting books on my blog, this post is in the same spirit, a contribution to the many parents out there who just need the highlights, the key bullets, and some helpful reflections that can gently guide them toward success.

As for a brief review, Karp occasionally suggests techniques that feel a bit undignified. At times, there are some suggestions that may sound good from a doctor’s office, but are questionable in real life situations. What is generally missing is the developmental psychology research and studies, but that is understandable given the target audience of the book. However, all of those minor critiques are a very small percentage of the book. Overall, as you can see in the notes below, this is a practical, accessible, easily understood, immediately applicable, and helpful read.



How I Found the Secret to Successful Communication with Toddlers

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new lands, but in having a new vision. – Marcel Proust


The Happiest Toddler: Toddler/Parent Basics

1 Toddler Basics: The Gentle art of Civilizing a Toddler

Main Points:

  • Toddlers aren’t mini-adults, or even mini-big kids. They’re more like uncivilized little cave-kids.
  • Our homes tend to be either too boring or too stimulating for our toddlers.
  • Your tot’s brain struggles with language and logic…especially when he’s upset.
  • Your toddler’s normal developmental drives often put him on a direct collision course with you.
  • You’ll find parenting makes a lot more sense once you figure out your child’s unique…temperament. (5)

Toddlers face four big struggles every day that make it extra-hard for them to behave like little angels.

  • Our modern world is weird to them.
  • Their brains are out of balance.
  • Their normal development can make them misbehave.
  • Their temperaments can make them overreact.

Talking directly to the right brain when your child is upset, by using your tone of voice, gestures, and body language to mirror ia bit of her emotion, is the key to helping her calm back down. (12)

Seven Clocked Minutes of Nursery School Behavior at Different Ages

2 Parenting Basics: The Lowdown on Bringing Up a Toddler

Main Points:

  • No one was meant to parent a toddler…without a lot of help.
  • Toddlers are tricky even for experienced parents.
  • Your tot’s words or deeds may open up feelings of hurt and humiliation from deep in your past.
  • Young kids are especially hard to deal with if their temperaments clash with ours. (23)

Parents’ Four Big Struggles

  • We don’t get enough help and guidance.
  • Daily battles can make us feel like failures.
  • Our toddlers’ actions can “push our buttons.”
  • Our temperaments may clash with our children’s. (24)

Our kids’ actions may release sudden waves of memory. (28)

No parents wants to scream at her toddler, but sometimes anger just erupts out of nowhere. I don’t want to ignore your feelings, but it is simply not okay to explode in front of your child. your child can’t help acting like a caveman, but you can…and must. It’s your responsibility to do your utmost never to lash out with physical violence or hurtful words. (30)

Try to find the hurt that’s under your anger. (30)

[via: While adults have the capacity to learn better skills, I don’t believe adults have the innate ability to “help acting like a caveman.”]


Connect with Respect: Toddler Communication Basics

3 The “Fast-Food Rule”: The Golden Rule of Communication

Main Points:

  • The secret to communicating with anybody who’s upset is the Fast-Food Rule (FFR).
  • FFR Part 1: Whoever is most upset talks first, the other person listens, repeats back what they’re told, and only then do they take their turn to talk.
  • FFR Part 2: What you say to an upset person is not as important as the way you say it (this is what I call finding the “sweet spot”).
  • The best parents use the FFR instead of words that hurt, compare, distract, and rush to squelch feelings. (41)

Whenever you talk to someone who’s upset, always repeat [their] feelings first…before offering your own comments or advice. (42)

Agitated people are terrible listeners. (44)

what you say (your words) is not as important as the ay you say it (your tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures). 944)

When we’re upset the first thing we want from our friends is for them to hear us–lovingly and attentively. (46)

…you should try to reflect about one-third of her emotional intensity in your tone of voice, face, gestures. (48)

Q: Don’t I get to speak first? After all, I am the parent.
A: Of course your child must respect you, and you’ll have many opportunities to teach her that. But when she’s upset, insisting that she wait for you to talk first will make her feel unloved. (51)

Emotions and learning are like oil and water… (53)

While many actions are unacceptable, most feelings are legitimate and should be promptly acknowledged (with the FFR). (55)

Here are four most frequent bad habits we fall into when we “elbow” our tot’s feelings aside so we can talk the first turn:

  • criticizing with hurtful words
  • making unfair comparisons
  • trying rude distractions
  • rushing to “make it all better” (57)

4 “Toddler-See”: A Talking Style That Really Works!

Pay attention to what you like and ignore or discourage the rest. – Karp’s law of successful parenting

Main Points:

  • Toddler-See is your toddler’s “native tongue.”
  • You can translate anything into Toddler-Use with three simple steps: short phrases, repetition, and mirroring a bit of your child’s feelings (using your tone of voice and gestures).
  • The more you practice Toddler-See, the better you get at it.
  • Amazingly, all of us automatically use Toddler-See with our young children…when they’re (67) happy. but we often forget to use it when they’re upset. (68)

Kneel just below your toddler’s eye level. (75)

Good listening is your secret weapon. Successful parents, like successful ambassadors, build great relationships by communicating with love and respect (not power and put-downs). (77)


Behavior Basics: Raise a Great Child the Green-Yellow-Red-Light Way

5 Green-Light Behaviors: How to Encourage Good Behavior

A child is fed with milk and praise. – Charles and Mary Lamb, Poetry for Children, 1809

Main Points:

  • Time-ins: Boost cooperation with bits of fun (includes attention, praise, gossip, rewards, hand checks, star charts, play).
  • Build confidence: Respect–plus some silliness–makes kids feel like winners (includes giving options and playing the boob). (95)
  • Teach patience: Give your child two surefire ways to build self-control (includes patience-stretching and magic breathing).
  • Create daily routines: Simple routines help kids feel smart and secure (includes bedtime sweet talk, special time, loveys, and pacifiers).
  • Plant seeds of kindness: Teach manners and character through the “side door” of your child’s mind (includes fairy tales and role-play). (96)

Imagination is more important than knowledge. – Albert Einstein

…but, as the complete quote from Einstein reads, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines what we currently know and understand imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.” (111)

We all know how tough it is to raise a toddler, but not many people realize how tough it is to BE a toddler. Toddlers lose all day long! They’re weaker, slower, shorter, less verbal, and (113) clumsier than almost everybody they know. That’s why they love stomping in puddles (to make a big splash) and showing off their “massive” muscles. It’s also why they can be so darn stubborn, refusing to listen or to give in. | They just want to win a few! (114)

Patience is like a muscle…it gets stronger with exercise. It actually strengthens the left half of the brain and speeds development! (122)

Teaching Patience: Patience-Stretching (p.123)

Toddlers don’t mean to be unfair. It’s just that they live in the “now” and quickly forget the “before.” (132)

Civilization is just a slow process of learning to be kind. – Charles Lucas

You know you’re really succeeding when your child wants you to tell her more of the adventures of the characters you’ve created. (143)

6 Yellow-Light Behaviors: How to Curb Annoying Behavior

Main Points:

  • Yellow-light behaviors are annoying things kids do, like whining, pestering, and dawdling.
  • You can curb your toddler’s yellow-light behaviors with four smart parenting skills:
  1. Connect with Respect: Using the Fast-Food Rule and Toddler-ese (plus a few other tricks) to help you detour around potential conflicts.
  2. Make Your Limits Clear and Consistent: easy ways to help your child know when you mean business. (147)
  3. Forge Win-Win Compromises: Using your toddler’s sense of fairness (and al little smart bargaining) to turn a won’t-won’t into a win-win…so both you and your child can feel triumphant.
  4. Enforce Mild Consequences: Clap-growl warnings and kind ignoring are two persua-(148)sive ways to show your child that annoying behaviors are a dead-end street. (149)

Your upset toddler is as much the victim of his[/her] intensity and immaturity as you are. (148)

(notice my “?!!” and Karp’s note on p. 177.)

I admit this sounds, well, undignified. (177)

[via: On page 180, the header reads “Kind Ignoring: Give Your Tot a Little Cold Shoulder” which is very similar to my philosophy, “That which you give attention, you give power.”]

7 Red-Light Behaviors: How to Put the Brakes on Bad Behavior

Main Points:

  • All toddlers do “bad” things…sometimes.
  • Acts that are dangerous or aggressive or that break important family rules are red-light behaviors.
  • Red-light behaviors require prompt and clear limit setting.
  • Put the brakes on your toddler’s red-light deeds with a “take-charge” consequence: Time-out or giving a fine.
  • Tie-outs work the best when started early and done exactly right. (185)
  • For older toddlers, giving a fine (losing a valued privilege or possession) is a useful penalty.
  • Effective discipline does not require resorting to spanking, intimidation, or humiliation. (186)

Here are some reasons why good kids do bad things:

  • Toddlers can’t explore without testing the rules.
  • Toddlers are impulsive.
  • Our threats paint kids into a corner.
  • Our limits are inconsistent and confusing.
  • Our rules are unrealistic.
  • Toddlers are overexposed to aggression.
  • Toddlers have too many stresses. (189)
  • You’re giving too little play and attention. …the Law of the Soggy Potato Chip (just as kids would rather have soggy potato chips than none at all, toddlers would rather be yelled at than ignored). (190)

I think he only reason spacing has been passed on–generation after generation–from the Dark Ages to today is because parents never knew there was a better alternative. In fact, I have never met a parent who said she would keep hitting her kids if she had another way to get them to behave that was easy, effective, and respectful. (206)

Simple methods help parents raise children who want to obey (out of love and respect), not children who are forced to obey (through threats and fear). (206)

It’s time to stop using intimidation and pain to make kids cooperate. | No offense, Grandpa, bu there is a better way! (206)


How Do I Handle This One?

8 Taming Tantrums…Like Magic!

Main Points:

  • Tantrums are normal but avoidable.
  • Tantrums peak between 18 and 24 months and again at around three and a half years of age.
  • Tantrums “push our buttons” and make many of us overreact.
  • To stop half of your toddler’s tantrums in seconds: Connect with respect, and if that fails, add kind ignoring. (211)
  • To prevent 50 to 90 percent of outbursts from even happening: 1) avoid problem situations, 2) connect with respect…all day, (3) feed the meter, and 4) teach patience-stretching. (212)

We’ve all been there, but when it happens we must try to remember to breathe and say to ourselves: My child is the caveman…I’m a civilized adult. (215)

[via: HA!]

How to Eliminate Most Tantrums…Before They Even Start!

  1. Avoid problem situations.
  2. Connect with respect…all day long.
  3. Feed the meter.
  4. Teach patience stretching and magic breathing. (224)

9 Real Answers to Common Problems

Main Points:

Troublesome toddler behaviors usually fall into one of four categories:

  • worries and fears
  • annoying attitudes and actions
  • defiance
  • aggressive and/or dangerous behavior (231)

…frightened kids calm fastest when their worries are respectfully acknowledged and when they’re encouraged to take baby steps to confront their fears. (240)


Civilization Ho! Your Happy, Confident Four-Year-Old

Appendix A

The Ten Basics for Raising a Happy Toddler

  1. It helps to think of your toddler as a little caveman.
  2. Know your toddler’s temperament.
  3. Give yourself a pat on the back. Parenting is hard.
  4. Be an ambassador to you uncivilized little tot.
  5. Practice the Fast-Food Rule every day.
  6. Speak in your upset toddler’s native lingo–Toddler-ese.
  7. Encourage your child’s good (green-light) behavior with lots of fun interactions…
  8. Curb your child’s annoying (yellow-light) behaviors.
  9. Put a quick halt to your child’s unacceptable (red-light) behaviors.
  10. Prevent most tantrums or lovingly stop them in their tracks.

Appendix B

Dr. Karp’s Key Terms and All-Star Tricks!

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