About a year ago, a friend emailed me a New York Times review of this book and asked what I thought. My initial reaction was pretty similar to that of the many people who gave this book one star reviews on Amazon. I didn’t like the comparison of my adorable 1-year-old to a caveman; it seemed down-putting and disrespectful.
A few months later I was in the library with my kids (now slightly-more-prone-to-acting-out 2-year-old daughter and baby boy) when I saw the DVD version of the book on the shelf. I picked it up and checked it out. The DVD definitely had some kitsch elements – it includes toddlers dressed in caveman outfits – but the results shown on the video were interesting enough that I decided to check out the book. Seeing the video helped me understand what Karp meant in his written description of toddlerese, so I would recommend looking at the video in addition to reading the book, if possible.
I finished the book this morning – nine weeks after starting it with many interruptions in between – and I have to say, I’m sold. I don’t do the full-out toddlerese Karp describes, but his “fast-food rule” has made a huge difference in our house. This morning, for example, Emma wanted to eat her gingerbread house and started to cry because I wouldn’t let her. I said, “You want eat gingerbread house.” (note this was a statement, not a question). She answered, “Yes”. I said, “Mama says, no eat gingerbread house.” She let out one last yell, “I want gingerbread house!” to let me know she didn’t like that, and then stopped crying and happily ate the grapefruit I offered instead. The entire exchange lasted thirty seconds at the most. I use complete adult sentences with her the rest of the day, but I have found Karp is right that leaving out all unnecessary words works better when reasoning with an upset toddler.
Toddlerese is one of a variety of parenting strategies Karp discusses in the book – it has gotten the most attention because it is the most original component of the book. Karp also discusses knowing – and working with – your toddler’s temperament, keeping cool during a toddler meltdown, using “respect and rewards” to encourage good behavior, spending quality time with your toddler (“time-in” he calls it), the importance of outdoor play, how/when to use time-outs, how/when to remove privileges, and how/when to ignore inappropriate behavior.
If you don’t have time to read the entire book, start with the second half – Karp recommends this. The first half is mostly about his toddler as caveman philosophy whereas the second half focuses on practical advice. Contrary to my inital reaction, after reading the entire book I feel that Karp has a lot of empathy and respect for toddlers – and is trying to help parents convey their empathy and respect to their children without giving in to their every whim.
There is a 2008 revised edition of the book, but I haven’t read it and so can’t comment on any changes. I would love to hear positive or negative reactions to this book from any other parents who have read it (either edition).
Has anyone used the book,The Happiest Baby on the Block? After my experience with the toddler book I just may check out the baby book the next time I have an infant in the house…