A few weeks ago I was out for coffee with my friends – who all happen to be teachers. The four of us sat in Starbucks having wonderful girl-talk that was only slightly peppered with comments about our job. We try to avoid “shop talk” as much as possible when we are together because the point of spending time together is to celebrate our friendship and get away from our job. And, if you’ve been around a group of teachers in a social setting, you know we are notorious for talking teaching for hours at a time. But, my friends and I try to avoid that – we like to demonstrate to ourselves that there is more to our life than teaching, and there always is (but that’s sometimes hard to tell from September-June). Alas, this particular weekday afternoon a discussion of our profession crept into our girl-talk. It sounded something like this:
Friend: “So, I’m reading this book Happiest Toddler on the Block.” Her bold declaration while she sipped her tea immediately grabbed my attention since said friend does not have a toddler.
Me: “Really? You are?” In reality, I wasn’t all that surprised because this friend is extremely well read.
Friend: “Yeah, I found it on a friend’s coffee table and started flipping through it. It’s an easy read – very straightforward. My friend said she swears by the book. Seems to have all these great tips to deal with a toddler and she said they really work.” At this point my friend smirks, she has a secret that she is devilishly anxious to reveal. She giggles because she is just so proud of herself.
Me: “What?” I prod her.
Friend: “I’ve been using the techniques in some of my classes and they really work!”
This statement wouldn’t be all that outrageous if we were elementary school teachers, but we all teach high school, as in grades nine through twelve.
Oh yes, the four of us laughed. Loudly.
Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Toddler on the Block is helping a secondary school teacher manage the classroom! Once we composed ourselves, she went on to give an example of how the techniques worked.
A student was hanging out the window and she said “Arms belong in the classroom” (Karp advises to keep directions short, to the point with toddlers); the student promptly brought all his limbs back inside and closed the window without any whining, denial that he was hanging out of the window or debate about the benefits of hanging out of a window as one would normally receive from a teen. This is a major coup for any teacher – to have instructions followed without so much as an eyebrow lift or kissed teeth means you are doing your job.
You might also be marvelling at the fact that a student was hanging out the window, but then you probably don’t spend much of your day with the 14-17 year-old set. They are quite the crowd. Gotta love ’em to spend every day of your life with ’em.
I naturally purchased the book that very afternoon and absolutely devoured Karp’s anecdotes, wisdom and advice. I do not have a particularly difficult toddler. In fact, I consider myself quite lucky because he is pretty fantastic, and it was nice to see that many of the techniques advised by Karp my husband and I already actively engage. But, there were a few key pieces that I found were nothing short of brilliant. And, regardless of how wonderful my child is, there are times when I marvel at the sheer will of someone so young!
I am in complete agreement with Karp’s ideas on feeding the meter, bed-time sweet talk and continued efforts throughout the day to reinforce positive behaviours. My absolute favourite is gossiping. It works like a charm. My little boy loves to “catch me” gossiping about him to his toys about the wonderful things he does, or the things I’d love for him to do. I naturally deny that any gossiping has taken place, as per Karp’s instructions, and, literally, within seconds, the desired behaviour is displayed.
I also try as much as possible to acknowledge his emotions – whatever they may be – when I see a battle of wills approaching. “Yes, you are mad, mad, mad” or “you say no, mommy! no bath mommy! no bath!” – his beautiful brown eyes light up when he feels understood.
Inspired by my friend and my toddler, I bring these techniques into the class room with me and am positively floored to see them work! Acknowledging feelings, feeding the meter, keeping directions short, patience-stretching…I have yet to use the clap and growl though. I am very interested in seeing a teenager’s reaction to an adult clapping and growling them out of negative behaviour!
All in all, Harvey Karp M.D. provides information succinctly, clearly and without being condescending. His book is very organized and the chapters are self-contained – you can read them in any order you wish and still be able to undersand his logic. I highly recommend this book to any parent with a toddler – you might feel a little awkward speaking Toddlerese at first, but once you find your groove, this and every other technique is awesome. And, hey, if you happen to teach teenagers, well, this book will also help you deal with them – if anything, you’ll have a great teaching story to tell the next time you get together with your teacher friends.