Our daughter has only just turned 1, but already we are seeing a little of the Terrible Twos. She’s very physical and independent. She wants to put on her own shoes, wants to hold the leash to walk the dog and wants to color with markers just like big brother and sister. But she can’t always accomplish everything she wants to do and that leads to frustration and anger. Neither of my other two children were throw-themselves-on-the-ground-and-kick-their-legs-kind of complainers, but this usually sweet little girl is. She flops her whole body down on the living room carpet and kicks her legs in the air and cries. At this point it’s kind of funny to watch — she’s so tiny and so mad. It’s not extreme or out of control —yet — but it is definitely the beginning of a temper tantrum. My husband recently sent me a New York Times story entitled “Coping with the Caveman in the Crib.” I was intrigued. The gist of the story was about Dr. Harvey Karp’s theories on tantrums and how toddlers are actually not like little people but like cavemen. (He’s famous for his book “The Happiest Baby on the Block.” This theory is from “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.”) Dr. Karp’s web site explains, “Cavemen were stubborn, opinionated, and not too verbal. They bit and spat when angry, were sloppy eaters, hated to wait in line, and were negative, tenacious, distractible, and impatient…sound familiar?” “It’s a comical image, but comparing little kids to primitives is no joke. Dr. Karp argues that toddlers can only be understood by taking one giant step…backward! During three short years, toddlers zoom through the major achievements of almost 5 million years of human evolution: walking, talking, tool making, and problem solving.” Dr. Karp says toddlers’ brains are emotional and instinctive. They are definitely not logical and so logic won’t work to console them. He wants parents to bring themselves mentally and physically to the child’s level. He doesn’t want the parents to give in to their demands but he wants them to use the toddler’s language — “toddler-ese.” “Stick with one- to three-word phrases (three to five words for verbal toddlers). Second, repeat those phrases over and over. Young children often need five to ten repetitions to get their attention and focus on what you are saying,” explains his Web site. “Finally, be an actor. How you say your words is even more important than what you say. Match your tone of voice, facial expressions, and body gestures to her level of emotion. Pout, wave your arms, furrow your brow and dramatically echo her complaints to show you understand exactly how your toddler feels.” So what exactly should you say? Here’s an example off his Web page, “Imagine your 18-month-old is standing at the door, screaming to go outside. Don’t just squash his hopes by telling him why he can’t go (‘It’s raining’). First, acknowledge his feelings …in his own energetic language. Say in Toddler-ese, ‘You say, ‘Go, Mommy. Go! Go!’ You want out, now! Out! Out! Out! You’re bored, bored, bored!’ With gestures and a dramatic tone repeatedly echo his feelings. Once your irate little caveman realizes that you truly understand his whining and wailing will noticeably diminish. That’s the signal that it’s your turn. That he’s ready to hear your reasons, reassurance, options, etc.” The Times reporter reviewed his DVD and confirms the method works. “Within seconds, teary-eyed toddlers calm and look at him quizzically as he repeats their concerns back at them. Once the child has calmed, a parent can explain the reason for saying no, offer the child comfort and a happy alternative to the original demand.” Besides just making life easier for adults, some doctors believe Karp’s methods can prevent child abuse that occurs when parents get frustrated and can’t convince their child to do what they what. In fact, several government agencies, as well as the leaders of Prevent Child Abuse America, have endorsed his methods. Do you buy into Dr. Karp’s theory? Would you babble like a caveman to help calm your child? What other secret weapons do you have to fight tantrums? Share with us at ajc.com/momania.
Written by Theresa Giarrusso, posted on March 31, 2008, at www.ajc.com