Book Review: The Happiest Toddler on the Block

I just finished reading The Happiest Toddler on the Block (How to eliminate tantrums and raise a patient, respectful, and cooperative one- to four- year old) by Harvey Karp, M.D.  After I finished reading it, I was concerned that the the cover notes it is a “National Bestseller.”  The “advice” in this book lacks any foundation or theory to tie it all together.  It seems to jump from cliche to cartoon to catch-phrases, without staying long enough on any point to actually explain it.  There may be a few “tricks” worth trying in this book, but I doubt a reader will come away with a a useful understanding of how to parent a toddler.

Book Summary:Happiest Toddler

  • Toddlers are little cavemen because their brains are primitive and out of balance, with emotions and impulsivity driving toddler behavior.
  • Children are not all the same.  Be aware of your child’s temperament.
  • Parenting is hard, especially parenting toddlers.
  • Be am ambassador to your caveman toddler, meaning use respect, kindness, and diplomatic limits.
  • Use the “Fast-Food” Rule.  Talking to your child is like ordering fast food.  The employee always first restates your order, then proceeds with the transaction.  When talking to your child, first repeat back  what your child wants/feels, then proceed to the adult’s message.
  • Speech to your child in “toddler-ese.” Toddler brains struggle with language, so you should talk to them in a simplified way.  Short phrase, repeated, with lots of body language and expression.
  • Encourage good behavior with attention.
  • Decrease annoying behavior with fast-food rule and toddler-ease.
  • Stop unacceptable behavior by using time-outs or giving a fine.
  • The book argues that using these techniques will decrease negative behaviors 50 to 90%.

Positives: Easy to read, full of examples and illustrations.  Ideas are easy to remember.

Neutral: After doing a bit more research on the author, I feel there is more to his ideas than this book conveys.  This article was a nice start from the Child Mind Institute: Toddlers as Neanderthals: Dr. Harvey Karp at the Child Mind Institute.  I wonder where is the writing or editing process that the content got lost.

Negatives: Ideas presented in the book have no clear theoretically support, no developmental science or research to back them up.  Seems to be full of anecdotal evidence, rather than science.  If there is science behind his ideas, it is lost in his catch phrases and cliches.  It is hard to get past the idea that he recommends growling at toddler as a way to teach them to be respectful?

Who would I use this approach with: As presented in this book, I can’t honestly say I would recommend it to anyone.  Some ideas may have merit, but this book doesn’t present it well.

Who would I not use this approach with: Some ideas in this book are common to many parenting programs, but the unique ideas (particularly how to talk to toddlers) are not ones I would use with my children at home or my clients at work.

Would I recommend this book?  Nope.  There are much better parent resources available.

Paige Hays is an occupational therapist who provides in-home, pediatric occupational therapy services in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, MN. She is a mother of 2 girls, avid DIYer, and a highly skilled and experienced OT. She specializes in working in pediatrics, with diverse expertise ranging from cognition and sensory issues to working with children with neuromuscular disabilities or complex medical needs.