Book Review: How Toddlers Thrive

How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success arrived in my mailbox, hot off the presses, by Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard Center for  Toddler Development, which has been studying toddlers and their behavior for decades. I first worked with Tovah as a source for an article I wrote years ago, when my older son was consistently bolting away from me. Tovah offered a lot of insight as to what was going on with him developmentally and what strategies I (and other parents experiencing similar behaviors) could use to keep him safe in public.

I was pretty jazzed to read her book. While I thought the seeds/plant theme was a little bit much, I really found a lot of wisdom in those pages.

Her book felt a lot like speaking to her in person. She begins by explaining what’s going on with toddlers developmentally. She tells us what’s happening in their brains and what we can and should expect to see as normal behaviors for ages 2-5. Each chapter uses actual practical examples from kids she’s worked with at the Toddler Center–we read about a scenario and then she shares her process speaking with the parents to figure out what might lie behind the behavior.

This is what I love about the book. It’s not a recipe system where she lists behaviors and suggests responses from parents. Instead, she helps parents learn how to explore what’s going on in the full realm of the child’s world and try to understand what emotions might be leading to behaviors that seem, to us, unrelated and troublesome.

Tovah really emphasizes the toddler point of view, a technique where she teaches parents to think about things from their child’s perspective. For instance, she references a kid who loves bananas one day and adamantly refuses to be near them the moment you go and buy a Costco-sized amount (a daily food drama that plays out at my house!)–from the toddler’s perspective, this is an opportunity to figure out if he really likes bananas or just likes them because Mommy says so. Or even just a chance to have some independence and control over something.

She takes a similar approach to discussions of sleep, potty learning, etc.

I find it refreshing to read a book that so carefully considers the child in guiding parents through a challenging parenting time period. I know that since I have an older kiddo, my almost-two-year-old baffles me sometimes. I often think, “What is wrong with you? Why the heck would you throw your ham on the floor after you’d been begging for it for twenty minuets???” It’s good to read about what is indeed going on in his brain and remind myself that I should expect such behaviors.

There were some very specific chapters that are totally relevant to my life right now: preparing toddlers fora  new baby and moving into a new house. And, of course, there’s an entire section dedicated to how toddlers learn. The introduction to the book is written by Sarah Jessica Parker, who raves, “Tovah taught me how to resist the temptation to fix everything, and instead give my children the opportunity to learn how to problem-solve for themselves.”

I love this section, because it shows me how to sit back a little bit more and let my kids figure out their play on their own. She also has great suggestions for how parents can engage in play but not take over or dictate the rules. I like the suggestions for teaching toddlers to identify feelings, and showing them that it’s ok to have and display even strong feelings.

I’m eager to finish reading and to go back and read some chapters in greater depth, so I’ll leave you with the recommendation to do the same and discover for yourself how the book can be helpful for your family.

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