Book report: Happiest Toddler on the Block

I was very lucky to meet Dr. Harvey Karp at a conference last year, and he gave me a copy of the Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD. Since I had so many specific questions for him, I didn’t confess that I’d already seen it thanks to the library.

Happiest Toddler on the Block: or what would Harvey Karp say?


Let me cut to the chase, you must buy this video and watch it. Yeah, sure, the book is good, but the video is IMMEDIATE. Like, click on this Happiest Toddler instant video link and start watching Dr. Karp appease savage toddlers before you even finish reading why I think you should.

The Internet is awesome like that.

The concept:
The first thing you need to do is buy into the premise that toddlers are like neanderthals. Then you can apply Dr. Karp’s secrets of great communication to get your messages across in their primitive language.

The Fast Food Rule

“Whenever you’re speaking with someone who is upset, they get to go first, and you acknowledge their feelings before doing anything else,” Dr. Karp says. My experience at a fast food restaurant is not that they utilize this system of customer service, but I have tried it in my house with great success. “You want to have a treat right now, and you’re mad at Mommy.” The key is to say this out loud before “Sorry, but we’re having dinner in just a few minutes.”

Toddler-ese means to simplify your language and repeat.

Rather than say, “I see you wanted that cool toy that your brother was playing with, yes, it looks fun,” you grunt, “You want it, you want it. That toy, you want it!” and repeat it over and over.  And don’t forget to match their level of intensity with your words and body language. If the tone isn’t right, it won’t work. (This is another way in which the video nails it but the book can’t quite do the job.)

In the DVD, Dr. Karp offers other clever hacks for encouraging good behavior throughout the day (like stretching out patience, gossiping, and playing the boob) while real parents reflect on their experiences.

Is it any good?
I find it supremely helpful to think of my small person as a neanderthal for the purposes of communication. While you won’t hear me talking baby-talk (“wa wa” and “ba ba” have no place in my home), the cave-person grunts of Toddlerese feel right.

Having watched this video seven years ago and meeting Dr. Karp in person, I realize that I’m practically fluent in Toddler-ese by now. Last night at bedtime, I comforted my crying son, “You are SAD SAD SAD; you want the cookie; Mommy said NO NO; you want the cookie; you want it” until he looked at me with that, “She really gets me” look and chilled out.

Now that I’ve taken a refresher, by re-watching the DVD, I’m eager to test some of the other techniques on my toddler when I see him after daycare today .

What’s bad about it:
It takes 38 minutes and you might want answers NOW NOW NOW. Also, the book, while fantastic, lacks the human demonstrations to clarify tone and body language.

Bottom line:
Same as my top-line, people: Just buy it. If the streaming video is more practical for your lifestyle, super. If not, then buy the DVD. Or check them out from Netflix or your library.

Disclosure: Not sponsored, but I received a free DVD.

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RookieMoms co-founder & mom to 3 boys in Berkeley, CA. Bossy big sister and project manager turned blogger helping moms enjoy their first years of motherhood. Find me on my other site on 510families.com or hiding in my minivan eating dark chocolate.