The Happiest Toddler Book
Part One: The Happiest Toddler – Toddler/Parent Basics
Chapter 1 – Toddler Basics: The gentle art of civilizing a toddler
Chapter 2 – Parenting Basics: The lowdown on bringing up a toddler
Part Two: Connect with Respect – Toddler Communication Basics
Chapter 3 – The Fast Food Rule: The golden rule of communication
Chapter 4 – Toddler-ese: A talking style that really works!
Part Three: Behavior Basics – Raise a Great Child the Green-Yellow-Red-Light Way
Chapter 5 – Green Light Behavior: How to encourage good behavior
Chapter 6 – Yellow Light Behaviors: How to curb annoying behavior
Chapter 7 – Red Light Behaviors: How to put the breaks on bad behavior
Part Four: How Do I Handle This One?
Chapter 8 - Taming Tantrums…Like Magic!
Chapter 9 – Real Answers to Common Problems
Appendix A – The Ten Basics for Raising a Happy Toddler
Appendix B – Dr. Karp’s Key Terms and All-Star Tricks!
Chapter 1: Toddlers Basics: The gentle art of civilizing a toddler
- Toddlers aren’t mini-adults, or even mini-big kids. They’re more like uncivilized little cave-kids.
- Our homes are simultaneously overly boring and overly stimulating for our toddlers.
- Your tot’s brain is primitive, immature…especially when he’s upset.
- Your toddler’s normal development will 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.
Chapter 2: Parenting Basics: The lowdown on bringing up a toddler
- 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 uncover feelings of hurt and humiliation from deep in your past.
- Young kids are especially hard to deal with if their temperaments clash with ours.
- The key to effective parenting: Be an “ambassador!” Parenting is much easier when you can diplomatically mix respect and limits.
Chapter 3: The Fast Food Rule: The golden rule of communication
- 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 …then gets a turn to talk.
- FFR, Part 2: What you say to someone who is upset is not as important as the way you say it (finding the “sweet spot”)
- You will use the FFR instead of words that hurt, compare, distract and rush to squelch feelings.
Chapter 4: Toddler-ese: A talking style that really works!
- Toddler-ese is your toddler’s “native tongue.”
- You can translate anything into Toddler-ese with three simple steps: short phrases, repetition, mirroring a bit of your child’s feelings (using your tone of voice and gestures).
- Toddler-ese may feel a bit odd at first—but with practice it becomes as easy as riding a bike.
- The more you practice Toddler-ese, the better you get at it.
- Amazingly, all of us naturally use Toddler-ese with our young children…when they’re happy.
Chapter 5: Green Light Behavior: How to encourage good behavior
The best way to help your toddler behave better is to catch him being…good. Feeding the Meter is the perfect way to flash a green light to your toddler’s good behavior. There are five enjoyable ways to do this:
- Time-ins: Boost cooperation with bits of fun (Includes attention, praise, gossip, rewards, hand checks, star charts, play)
- Build Confidence: Respect – plus some silliness – make kids feel like winners (Includes giving options and playing the boob)
- Teach Patience: 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)
Chapter 6: Yellow Light Behaviors: How to curb annoying behavior
- 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:
- Connect with Respect: How to use the Fast Food Rule and Toddler-ese (plus a few other tricks) to help you detour around potential conflicts.
- Make Your Limits Clear and Consistent: Easy ways to help your child know when you mean business.
- Win-Win Compromises: How to use your toddler’s sense of fairness (and a little smart bargaining) to turn a won’t-won’t into a win-win…so both you and your child can feel like winners.
- Mild Consequences: Clap-growl warnings and kind ignore are two persuasive ways to show your child that annoying behaviors are a dead end street.
Chapter 7: Red Light Behaviors: How to put the breaks on bad behavior
- All toddlers do “bad” things…sometimes.
- Acts that are dangerous, aggressive, or 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.
- Time-outs work the best when started early and done correctly.
- For older toddlers, giving a fine (losing a valued privilege or possession) is a useful penalty.
- This approach gets cooperation and teaches respect without resorting to intimidation or humiliation.
Chapter 8: Taming Tantrums…Like Magic!
- Tantrums are normal, but avoidable.
- Tantrums peak between18-24 months and again at around 3 ½ years of age.
- Tantrums “push our buttons” and make any of us overreact.
- To stop over half of your toddler’s tantrums in seconds: Connect with respect, and if that fails add kind ignoring.
- To prevent 50-90% of outbursts from ever happening: 1) Avoid problem situations, 2) connect with respect…all day, 3) feed the meter and 4) teach patience-stretching.
Chapter 9: Real Answers to Common Problems
Tears, fears and the occasional tug-of-war are all par for the course when living with toddlers. But, that doesn’t mean you’re powerless to make things better. On the contrary, this last chapter will help you use my whole doctor’s bag of Happiest Toddler tools and skills to solve almost any challenge your young child will “throw at you!”
Troublesome toddler behaviors usually fall into one of four categories:
- Worries and Fears
Examples: Separation worries, fears, abandonment issues when a new baby arrives.
- Annoying Attitudes and Actions
Examples: Dawdling, interrupting, whining.
Examples: Refusing medicine, fighting the car seat, picky eating.
- Aggressive and/or Dangerous Behavior
Examples: Attacks on other children (hitting, pinching, biting), running away.
HELP! THERE’S A NEANDERTHAL IN MY KITCHEN
Would you like to help your child become the best, most cooperative toddler on your block? You’ll be most successful if you keep in mind this one key fact: Toddlers act less like little school kids than they do like uncivilized little…caveman.
Wait a minute, you might be thinking. Did he just compare my child to a caveman? Yup, I did!
Of course, toddlers aren’t really cavemen, but they do exhibit lots of pretty primitive behaviors, like: Using a lot of grunts and pointing, wiping their noses on their sleeves (or yours), scratching and biting when angry, and peeing anywhere they want. No wonder the mom of a rebellious 18-month-old jokingly told me, “It’s like there’s a tiny Neanderthal living in my house!”
In fact, between your child’s first and fourth birthdays, his rapid maturation will greatly resemble a super-fast re-run of ancient human development. It’s thrilling to watch as the same great achievements that our primitive ancestors took eons to master spring forth in our children over the space of just three years:
- Walking upright
- The ability to skillfully use the hands and fingers
- Juggling ideas (comparing/contrasting)
- Beginning to read
Over these same toddler years, one of your biggest challenges will be to teach your child the fine points of “civilization,” such as manners, patience, sharing, and concern for others. And you will be much less frustrated and much more successful teaching these once you recognize that your uncivilized little friend is far from a fully rational and logical person.
YOUR TODDLER’S FOUR BIG STRUGGLES
We all know how tough it is to raise and civilize a toddler, but have you ever stopped to think how tough it is to BE a toddler.
From your toddler’s perspective, she is losing all day long! She’s weaker, slower and shorter than everyone else….and that’s just the start of her challenges. Toddlers face four big struggles every day that make it extra hard for them 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 temperament can make them overreact.
TODDLER STRUGGLE #1: Our modern world… is weird to them.
We assume that living in a house or apartment is normal, but it’s actually an odd environment for toddlers when you consider that for 99.9 percent of human history children spent most of every day frolicking…outside.
Imagine inviting Tarzan to live with you. There’s a good chance he’d go totally bonkers. Compared to his jungle home yours is a weird double whammy: Terribly dull in some ways, yet way too stimulating in other ways.
Similarly, our homes are both boring and overly stimulating to our little kids…at the same time. They’re boring because they replace the exciting sensations of nature (the bright colors, the feeling of the wind on their skin, the brilliant sun, the soft grass, etc) with an immense stillness (flat walls, flat floors, no wind, no fluttering shadows, no birds chirping) additionally, many traditional toddlers festivities (running after kids and dogs, throwing dirt clods, catching bugs, climbing trees) are much less unavailable.
Blah!! No wonder so many kids bounce off the walls by late morning.
Yet, at the same time our world can be too stimulating to toddlers. It bombards them with chaotic, jolting experiences that kids in the past never had to deal with: Crazy cartoons, slick videos, clanging computer games, noisy toys, and bright colors everywhere. We may be used to all this, but it makes many little children feel stressed.
As the day wears on, all this over and under stimulation can drives many little kids over the edge into fatigue, irritation and misbehavior. Uh-oh! Tilt…tilt…tilt!
TODDLER STRUGGLE #2: Their brains are out of balance.
Did you know that our brains are split right down the middle? We all have a right half and a left. They look alike, but do very different things. (You can think of the left side as being more civilized and the right more primitive. That’s a huge oversimplification, but as you’ll see it will help you understand what’s going in there.)
The left side is the nerd of the nervous system. It loves details: Picking the right word, counting the toys and solving problems…step by step. It helps us listen carefully; be patient, methodical and reasonable; and stay calm.
The right side is the “Speedy Gonzalez” of the nervous system. It‘s great at: Quick decisions, snap recognition of faces and places, noticing changes and instantly bouncing to any type of music. Unlike its focused and logical neighbor, the right side is distractible, impulsive and emotional. (Not exactly the traits you’d pick in a roommate!)
The two sides of the brain are in pretty close balance in big kids and adults, but the left side tends to run the show. Guess which side runs the show in toddlers? Yup, you guessed it…the right. In fact your tot’s emotional right side is so active and noisy it can barely “hear” the patient voice of the left side telling it to settle down.
What’s more, your toddler’s brain is like a buzzing beehive with 20 billion nerve cells and 50% more nerve connections than we have in our big heads! All these connections mean she has millions – or billions – more signals zipping around. Imagine the non-stop whirlwind of messages, “Go here!” “Go there!” “Touch it!” “No don’t!” Yikes! No wonder little kids spin out of control.
And, if all that weren’t challenging enough, your toddler’s brain gets thrown totally off balance when she’s upset. Big emotions instantly dial down the thoughtful left brain and dramatically amp-up the primitive right.
In truth, this same imbalance happens in adults, too (that’s why we “go ape” when we’re upset). But since our right brain toddlers are a whole lot more impulsive to begin with, when they get upset they literally start to shriek, spit, crash into tables, run into streets and act even more like Neanderthals than usual!
Despite these difficulties, your toddler’s right brain has one spectacular ability that will soon become a huge help to you: “Non-verbal” communication. Even though her brain’s immature left side gets hopelessly confused by your words, her well developed right side is superb at “reading” your every gestures and tone of voice…even when she’s upset.
THE FAST FOOD RULE: THE GOLDEN RULE OF COMMUNICATION
You smile, then your baby smiles, then you smile back. She babbles, you babble, she gurgles with glee. This little “dance” is your child’s first conversation. The simple “back and forth” of patiently listening…then responding is the basic turn-taking pattern of all human communication.
This little dance is simple and pleasing when your toddler is happy. But, when he enters meltdown mode it’s easy to get sucked in…lose your cool …and start to melt down, too (especially when you are the target of the outburst). This dynamic can lead to an explosive escalation.
But don’t worry! This is exactly when the Fast-Food Rule comes to the rescue.
THE WHAT? THE FAST FOOD RULE!
This silly sounding rule is the golden rule for communicating with anyone who’s upset. I promise: you’ll be amazed how it works on everyone – from toddlers to teens to temperamental spouses.
In a nutshell, the Fast Food Rule says: Whenever you talk to someone who’s upset, always repeat his feelings first… before offering your own comments or advice.
Why is this called the Fast Food Rule?
Fast food joints may have their problems, but they do one thing incredibly well: Communicating with customers. Imagine you’re hungry. You pull up to the restaurant order window and a voice crackles over the speaker, “Can I help you?” You answer, “A burger and fries, please.” Now…tell me what do you think the order-taker should say back to you?
- “What’s the matter, too lazy to cook tonight?”
- “You should get two burgers, you look hungry.”
- “That’s $5, please drive forward.”
The answer is none of the above!
The very first thing she should do is repeat your order to you. She does this because she needs to make sure she understands exactly what you want (“Okay, that’s a burger and fries. Anything to drink?”) before she takes her turn: “That’s $5. Please drive up front.”
I mentioned at the start of this chapter that normal conversations have a simple “back and forth” pattern. When we talk, we take turns (“I like chocolate!” ”Me, too! I love chocolate!”). But, this pattern needs to change dramatically when one person is upset.
The rule for talking to someone who’s upset is: Whoever is most upset talks first (and gets an extra long turn to vent). The other person listens patiently and repeats back his feelings with care and interest. (“Wow! What she did really made you angry!”) Only then does the friend get a turn to say what she thinks about the situation.
At fast food joints, the person who is hungriest gets to speak first. And, with parents and children (or in any dialogue between two people), the person who is most upset – the “hungriest for attention” – goes first.
Is it really so important to take turns like this? Absolutely! Here’s why: Agitated people are terrible listeners. Big emotions (like anger and fear) turn our open minds into closed doors. But, once we express our feelings – and they’re acknowledged – our minds swing back open and we can again pay attention to the good suggestions of the people we love.
And, there is one more critical point:
When you repeat what a person has shared with you about her feelings, what you say (your words) is not as important as the way you say it (your tone of voice, facial expression, and gestures).
Many moms and dads say that the Fast Food Rule is one of the most important parenting (and life) skills they’ve ever learned. So, let’s go over how to use both parts of the FFR (the words you say and the way you say them) in some real-life situations.
The Ten Basics for Raising a Happy Toddler
1. It helps to think of your toddler as a little…caveman.
With all their grunting and grabbing toddlers can act uncivilized. In fact, their brains are actually pretty primitive and out of balance. The part that’s good at language and logic is immature and the part that’s emotional and impulsive is in the driver’s seat. Even our brains lose much of their language and logic ability when we’re upset (we get so mad we “go ape!”). But, since toddlers are primitive to start with, when they’re upset their brains get so stressed-out they seem to go…prehistoric!
2. Know your toddler’s temperament.
Is your child laid back? Cautious? Spirited? Knowing your toddler’s temperament will help you be better at anticipating his needs and reactions so you can be a better parent.
3. Give yourself a pat on the back. Parenting is hard.
Parenting is a challenging job. Besides having to handle with your primitive little pal’s ups and downs, you’ll regularly have to struggle with these common parenting problems:
You don’t have enough help: If you’re like most parents today, you don’t have the rich network of family and friends that parents throughout history have relied on to help them at home. And, at the same time, you may be struggling with a modern challenge that past generations rarely encountered, dads and moms having to leave the home to hold down full time jobs.
You feel like a flop: Most new parents have no training and little experience. No wonder we feel demoralized when our little Bam Bams do the normal things that all toddlers do: Have meltdowns, act unreasonably and challenge the rules.
Your buttons get pushed: Don’t be surprised if your toddler’s spitting and shrieks unexpectedly awaken within you painful memories or upsetting feelings from deep in your past.
You have a personality mismatch: Does your personality clash with your little one’s? If so, take a breath, count your blessings and focus on what you love about your child.
4. Be an ambassador to your uncivilized little tot.
Once you realize your toddler is uncivilized (especially when she’s mad), it becomes clear why parenting is so tricky. Most successful moms and dads handle their toddler’s upsets with a mix of respect, kindness and diplomatic limit setting. In other words, you’ll be the most successful if you think of yourself not as your child’s “boss” or “buddy,” but as a skillful ambassador from the 21st Century to your primitive little friend.