Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: 1,2, 3 The Toddler Years

I recently went to my local library and picked up a copy of 1,2,3 The Toddler Years, A Practical Guide for Parents & Caregivers by Irene Van der Zande with Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center Staff.

I loved it - this is one of the most parent-friendly and accessible toddler behavior guides I've read.  The sections are brief, to the point, and full of real-life examples to help parents understand how to implement the book's advice.

The book has been around for over twenty five years and is still in print.  It's based on a philosophy of respect for toddlers that's been implemented and studied at the Santa Cruz Toddler Care Center.  I found it chock-full of common sense strategies for boosting my toddler's daily happiness and reducing tantrums.

Here are some of the chapter headings so you can get a sense of the book's content: Let Me Choose, Plan Ahead... It Helps, MINE!, Biting, Tantrums, Wait Til I'm Ready (Toilet Learning), Stop Feeling Guilty.

So much of the advice mirrors what I've read in other parenting guides, but here it is in very small, to the point chapters (there are chapters that are less than five pages!) that are as easy and quick to read as they are implement in your daily routines.

Some small things I'm doing differently after reading this book: 

Remembering to offer Will choices regularly, but ones I can live with.  "Orange shirt or blue shirt?", NOT "What would you like to wear today?" (Nothing isn't an option.)

Reserving some time each day to play with Will doing whatever he wants.  Even if that means sitting for fifteen minutes while he happily chugs a train back and forth and makes "ding ding ding ding" railroad crossing noises.  My usual tendency was always to run off and unload the dishwasher or switch the laundry every time he was happy, and I was missing out on some wonderful moments with my toddler.  I've also noticed that if I invest time paying attention to him in the morning, the rest of the day goes better even if I have a lot I need to do.

Being very careful about what I say in front of my toddler, and I don't just mean my vocabulary.  Children understand far more than we realize, much more than they communicate back to us.  If I'm complaining about my day, Will's listening, and learning.

Letting Will experience negative emotions without trying to distract him.  How many times have I said "Ohh, no, don't cry!" to my upset toddler after he's fallen, or when he's frustrated because he can't play with my iphone.  But this can send Will the message that it's not good to be upset or to cry.  Now I try to mirror what he's feeling with language "oh, you bumped your head and now you're crying, that stinks, it must hurt" and then ask him if he wants a hug, and just be close to him until he feels better.  (Harvey Karp's "Happiest Toddler on the Block" DVD and book deal specifically with how to react to tantrums and help toddlers with frustration and negative feelings, and I think he'd agree with this approach.)

Giving Will a heads up before transitions.  Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were in the middle of something, and someone grabbed you and put you in the car without even giving you a heads up or a chance to wrap up your activity.  I do this to Will all the time!  No wonder transitions are hard for kids; they don't know they're coming, and they're happily engrossed in the task at hand.  Now I try to give Will a heads up that we're going to go back inside soon and have snack, so let's push on the swing two more times, or we have to say goodbye to your friends soon, is there a toy you want to play with before we go?  He understands more than he always lets on, and giving him the heads up that we're finishing soon and telling him what we're doing next really do make the day go smoother.

Bottom Line:
I would recommend this book to any parents of toddlers.  It's so short and easy to read that it's a great option for parents or caregivers who aren't really into reading parenting books but could use some tips for caring for their toddlers.  (And seriously, who couldn't use some tips for keeping toddlers happy!)  I found it at my local library, but you can get a paperback copy for under $10, and it won't take more than a few minutes of flipping through it in the bookstore for you to tell if it's something you think you'd find helpful.

You can't just give them a cookie whenever they're upset.  (But don't I wish!)

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