A Pediatrician With A Following – Doctor Offers Steps to Calm Crying Babies in Connecticut

Dawn Roy says she owes her sanity to Dr. Harvey Karp.

While other parents pull their hair out trying to quiet a colicky baby, Roy said, Karp’s suggestions for tapping into her fussy baby’s “calming reflex” worked like a charm when her son Jacque was just a few months old and crying until the cows came home.

A California pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at the UCLA School of Medicine, Karp is coming to Connecticut on Wednesday to share his calming secrets, which are contained in two best-selling books, “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.”

Karp’s techniques have been featured on ABC News, CNN, Good Morning America and The Dr. Phil Show. He has gained such notable fans as Madonna, Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Pfeiffer.

“We just love Harvey Karp,” said Roy, who already has “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” cued up on her home DVD and the book resting on her bed stand. “We think he’s the next best thing since sliced bread.”

Karp will be appearing from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Amarante’s Cliff Side, a restaurant and banquet hall at 62 Cove St., New Haven. The free seminar is open to parents who can register online at www.ctclearinghouse.org/registration or by calling the Connecticut Clearinghouse at 800-232-4424. Seminar participants will receive diaper bags containing Karp’s DVDs, diapers and other supplies.

Karp will also be spending several days in Connecticut training Department of Children and Families staff and other social service workers so they can better assist their clients.

“Child abuse and neglect is sometimes the result of a parent who reaches the end of their frustration and tolerance level,” said Gary Kleeblatt, a DCF spokesman. “If we can give parents tools to deal with an infant who is particularly challenging with their crying, we will have taken an important step toward our prevention mandate.”

Statistics show that persistent infant crying is often a leading factor in child abuse and can lead to shaken baby syndrome in which a frustrated parent shakes a baby violently causing serious physical harm or death.

Karp’s techniques are rooted in what he calls “the calming reflex,” which he describes as the “off switch” for crying babies. Admirers have described Karp as a miracle worker whose techniques can quiet a fussy child in a minute or less. The secret, according to Karp, is replicating the coziness, sounds and rhythmic motions of the womb.

Karp calls a newborn’s first three months of life the “fourth trimester.” He says human infants, unlike other creatures, are grossly unprepared at birth for the often overwhelming stimuli of their new world outside the womb, causing them to cry. He suggests responding to persistent crying with the “five S’s system”: swaddling, side/stomach positioning, shushing sounds, swinging and sucking.

Roy, 35, said Karp’s suggestions for swaddling, swinging and shushing calmed colicky Jacque in minutes. She called the changes “unbelievable.” Hospitals always swaddle newborns and it’s a shame nurses don’t teach parents the invaluable technique more often, Roy said. Karp says swaddling helps babies feel secure and limits reflexive jerking motions that can cause them to stay awake.

“The job of parenting is the most important job that we never get any training for,” said Roy, a social worker for the Bridges outpatient mental health center in Milford. Roy joked that she has videos of herself running the vacuum to help Jacque sleep with shushing white noise and said her family went through a set of D batteries every week keeping Jacque’s baby swing in action.

“I swear by his techniques,” Roy said.

Judy Hill-Lilly, director of DCF’s training academy, said she relies on Karp’s tips for taming her toddlers’ temper tantrums. Hill-Lilly has a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old. She said Karp’s tips about using short phrases, repeating them often and mirroring a child’s energy during a tantrum are awkward at first but invaluable for keeping the family peace.

Karp suggests that when a toddler goes into a tantrum, parents should speak in “toddler-ese,” simple one-to-three word phrases the child can understand.

Parents should also repeat to a child the reason they are upset so the child feels better knowing their parent understands. Karp calls that the “fast-food rule,” which he says is similar to how staff at a fast-food restaurant always repeat your order before bringing up their own agenda and telling you the price and to drive up.

Here’s an example:

“You want to climb on the table! Climb! Climb! You want to climb now!” parents might say, stomping their feet, pouting or waving their hands to mirror the child’s expressions.

Hill-Lilly said she got some strange looks when she first tried Karp’s advice to soothe her daughter.

“I know I must have looked like I was crazy,” Hill-Lilly said. “It sounds crazy, it looks crazy, but it works! She calmed down right away.”

Written by Colin Poitras, posted on April 17, 2006, at www.courant.com

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