Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Afrogeek Mom Recommends: Happiest Toddler on the Block

Our three year old has the nickname "Barbarian." She is like some rare exotic forest creature come to live with us, one who has some curiosity about our human customs, but really no intention at all of adopting our ways. We are at a complete loss about what to do to civilize this creature, which is how we wound up spending our last date night in a bookstore looking through advice books about child-rearing.

Let me back up a bit and tell you a little something about kid #1. She certainly had her share barbarian tendencies. (I remember distinctly deciding when she was three and in the seemingly constant throes of temper tantrums that I was never having another kid.) But, all things considered, she was infinitely easier. We did a modified version of attachment parenting with her: we fed on demand, we had a family bed for three years, we held her has much as possible, we gave her as much skin-to-skin contact as possible. All of that seemed really natural to us and, frankly, worked brilliantly. When she started to walk and crawl we removed all breakable and dangerous objects from the low shelves and replaced them with her toys and books. She had (mostly) free reign of our apartment because we felt that it was her space as much as ours. We believed very strongly that little people, like big people, want to be treated with respect and dignity. So we explained rules to her instead of just handing down edicts. We set reasonable boundaries with reasonable consequences for stepping outside of them. Again, this all worked brilliantly. Our first kid is naturally a thinker and a rule follower--she likes things explained to her, in detail; she needs to know the whole plan before you execute it; she hates baby talk. We think she's turned out great. We felt we were great parents.

Then the universe sent us kid #2. None of our parenting tricks worked. As an infant, she was most content when left alone. She didn't want to be held or cuddled. She didn't want us to sing or coo. She wanted us to meet her needs and go away. When she learned how to walk she started trying to meet her needs herself, often going to the refrigerator or pantry to try to get her own juice or snack. She doesn't seem to care at all about rules. She is a big drama queen (one of her first phrases was "That's so tragic.") and an even bigger bully (she, at 3, thinks nothing of kicking or throwing something at her 8 year old sister). In short, we have a kid we don't know how to parent. So we went looking to a book.

Harvey Karp's assertion that toddlers (1-4 year olds) are like cavemen is exactly the kind of thing that would have had me rolling my eyes with my first kid. But, wow, is it an accurate description of kid #2.

We've been trying two of his techniques, the Fast-Food Rule and Toddler-ese. Again, if I had read this book 5 years ago, I would have scoffed. The idea of talking in "toddler-ese" and hitting my kid's emotional "sweet spot" when she's having tantrum would have read to me like complete pseudo-psychological nonsense. (We always refused to participate in the first kid's tantrums. We waited for her to return to a state of reasonable calm.) Truthfully, it read kind of like that now. Until I tried it.

Cate, since she's been potty-trained, wakes up once or twice a night to go to the bathroom. Only, she's so sleepy she doesn't quite realize she needs to go and gets really angry when you try to make her go. It's been a nightly fight for about a month now. Out of frustration I tried the fast-food rule and toddler-ese. Instead of saying, "Cate, you need to go to the bathroom. Let's go to the bathroom so you can go back to bed," in a sleepy voice that imitated her sleepy state, I said, "Sleepy? Sleepy? Catie sleepy?" She gave her little eyes a rub and shook her head. I said, again, in a sleepy voice, "So tired. I know. Let's potty and snuggle back in bed." Another nod. She went to the bathroom with no problem and went right back to sleep. No tears. No tantrums. No yelling. Amazing.

I was really skeptical of this book (And self-help books generally) and I'm not convinced it would have worked for the first kid, but I have to say, it seems to be doing the trick. She isn't civilized yet, but there seems to be hope.


Alison said...

We found a lot of things in "Happiest Baby on the Block" helpful. We found it particularly helpful that the book came with a DVD so that we got the main ideas in a very easy-to-process way, which was perfect for those first few weeks when reading seemed a bit too challenging.

Claudia said...

Hey, I love this book!!! Great recommendation. I was suspicious of the "toddler-ese" at first too, but once you get over the embarrassment it really works.

claire said...

So what's the fast food rule?