What’s past is prologue

Since B is now a toddler, I borrowed some parenting books to help prepare me for toddlerhood :). After all, “a mind once stretched to a new idea never returns to its original size.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)

In “Happiest Toddler On The Block,” Harvey Karp’s approach seems directly opposite to Doman’s “all babies are geniuses” POV.  Karp’s prehistoric parenting premise basically matches the four toddler development stages against 5 million years of evolution, i.e. ORP = ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny:

  1. Charming chimp child (12-18 mos) – Wobbles around on two legs, grabs everything in reach, nonstop monkey say monkey do. Walking, pointing, pinching and grabbing, manipulating tools to explore (banging, mouthing, stacking), twisting and swiveling wrists. Gestures, uses own words, mimics words/actions/ expressions learned from parents. Signing helps.  
  2. Knee high Neanderthal (18-24 mos) – Strong willed, fun loving messy. Should be able to understand and communicate 20-30 words, esp. “No” and “Mine.” Fascinated by small animals. Aping. Faster, jumping, throwing, hitting, gripping, scribbling and stringing words.  On the flip side, they are emotional yo-yos, no off switch, hard to change gears, prone to ADHD, but can learn orderliness, sorting and stacking (an area Montessori experts emphasise) 
  3. Clever cave kid (2-3 years) – Just beginning to learn how to share, make friends, take turns, use the potty
  4. Versatile villager (3-4 years) – Loves to read/tell stories, sing songs, dance … while trying to behave 😀

In tots, the right brain is stronger – this is where most experts agree (Doman, Karp). Hence, emotion and aggressive impulses dominate (Note: The right controls the left side which is responsible for details, organization, and in turn controls the right side). Prehistoric parenting involves being an ambassador to the Stone Age and engaging their right brain.  How do we do that?   How do we speak “toddlerese”?

  • Don’t talk to/at them!  Fast Food Rule = Repeat, then get your message across
  • Balance big and small praise. Compliment action not child. Never spoil praise. 
    • A child is fed on praise and milk (Poetry for Children. Charles and Mary Lamb. 1809)
    • Up to 2 years: Enthusiastic, applause, big grins. Some check if you’re watching (like B!) 
    • 2-4 years. Understated, change of tone, whispered praises
    • It takes 5 words of praise to cancel a single word of criticism
    • Side door message: Gossip aloud (stuffed animals, imaginary friends), 3rd party story (Santa, fairies, magic), reverse psychology (Opposites, “don’t brush your teeth” – haha)
  • Respect and rewards to encourage good behaviour
    • Nothing can be done without hope and confidence (Helen Keller)
    • Ask for your tot’s help, offer consistent speedy responses, let him decide in small things  (give 2 options, let him choose)
    • Play the boob. Once in while, be incompetent, clumsy, blind, weak, easily hurt, a baby like him, wrong, easily outwitted, arrogantly incorrect, a pushover, absurd, forgetful…. everyone loves bloopers!  
    • Encourage patience, delayed gratification 

Daily routine and play are proof of your love and make him want to cooperate:

  • Actively employ time-ins, a pleasurable time that you spend each day with him. Soothing routines include:
    •  Loveys or blankies (portable routines), affirmation, outdoor and creative play, reading  
    • Massage is love which is one unique breath, breathing in two (Frederick Leboyer)
    • Breathing exercises works best around 30 mos. Do them in the same time, same place, several times a week (if not every day). Begin before a nap or early evening when he’s relaxed. 
    • Special time involves setting aside DEDICATED bonus time 2-3x/day with your tot doing any activity he wants. Announce it, set a timer, do it approx the same time every day
  • Laughter stimulates the immune system and erases the effects of stress  
  • Sucking is a comforting ritual and totally normal

Spare the (rod) discipline, spoil the child 

  • Your tot’s job is to push the limits. Yours is to respectfully enforce them
    • This is how tots explore and discover the world around them
    • They are inherently impulsive, self centered and short sighted
    • Our rules can be confusing, sometimes unrealistic ==> set appropriate expectations and limits we can actually enforce 
    • We sometimes accidentally encourage bad behaviour (i.e. when they cry, we respond!)
    • Keep statements brief and positive.  Too many words work against you. 
    • Be consistent and creative.  E.g. sandwiching (“let’s read, then we can have a race to see who picks up the most toys, then we have a snack!”)
    • No mixed messages. Don’t smile when you’re serious 
  • Good tots can sometimes act “bad”
  • Use distraction and battering to get cooperation.
  • Punishments if necessary:  Ignore, remove privileges, time out (make sure you’re calm and somewhat removed — don’t say much, done the same way, don’t wait too long) 
Boulders that trip up tots:
  • Tantrums: First appear 12-15 months when emotions run high and self control is low
  • Public meltdowns: Outbursts where there’s an audience have to be tamed.  
    • Use toddlerese and then offer a detour (compromise or distraction)
    • Else, count to 3, remove him from the scene and have a time out
  • Sleep problems: Overtired and overstimulated. Sleep training needed! 18 month regression   
  • Biting: Nip it.  Respond to hunger and teething, ensure there’s sufficient outdoor play, use side-door messages to explain the rule, minimise conflict opportunities around other kids 
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