+ The Toddler as Caveman — How to Cope

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An article from the NYT, by Tara Parker-Pope, offers some coping tips for parents of toddlers.    

Dr. Harvey Karp, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, has turned his attention to the toddler years.

 Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, could be called the “baby-whisperer.”  His uncanny ability to quiet crying babies became the best-selling book “The Happiest Baby on the Block.”  

The Karp method has been endorsed by child advocates.  He has demonstrated his techniques in television appearances.  A DVD version of his book is available, which shows fussy babies who are quickly, almost eerily soothed by a combination of tight swaddling, loud shushing and swinging, which he says mimics the sensations of the womb.   

Now Dr. Karp has tackled the toddler period, that explosive window of development when children learn language, motor skills and problem solving, among other things. 

The rapid pace at which all these changes occur is nothing short of astonishing, but it can also be overwhelming to little brains. A wailing baby is nothing compared with the defiant behavior and tantrums common among toddlers.  

His latest book is “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.”   

Dr. Karp tries to teach parents the skills to communicate with and soothe tantrum-prone children. But in doing so,he redefines what being a toddler means.   

In his view, toddlers are not just small people. In fact, for all practical purposes, they’re not even small Homo sapiens.   

In terms of brain development, he says, a toddler is primitive, an emotion-driven, instinctive creature that has yet to develop the thinking skills that define modern humans.   

The common tools of modern parenting, logic and persuasion, “are meaningless to a Neanderthal,” Dr. Karp says.   The challenge for parents is learning how to communicate with the caveman in the crib.   

Dr. Karp says “All of us get more primitive when we get upset, that’s why they call it ‘going ape.’ But toddlers start out primitive, so when they get upset, they go Jurassic on you.”   

Improving the ways parents cope with crying and tantrums isn’t just a matter of convenience.    “The No. 1 precipitant to child abuse is the kid who cries and gets upset and doesn’t settle down and whines and whines,” says Robert Fox, Director of the behavior clinic at Penfield Children’s Center in Milwaukee. “It’s a real vulnerable situation for abuse.”   

Dr. Karp’s baby program has been endorsed by several government health agencies, leaders of Prevent Child Abuse America and others. Dr. Karp will discuss his toddler program in an address to the Early Head Start program, which provides early childhood services to low-income families.   

For self-counscious parents, however, Dr. Karp’s method of toddler communication may be a problem.    

It involves bringing yourself, both mentally and physically, down to a child’s level when he or she is upset.    

The goal is not to give in to a child’s demands, but to communicate in a child’s own language of “toddler-ese.”    

This means using short phrases.     

With lots of repetition.     

Reflecting the child’s emotions in your tone and facial expressions.    

Most awkwardly of all, it means repeating the child’s exact  words — over and over and over again.   

For instance, a toddler throwing a tantrum over a cookie might wail, “I want it. I want it. I want cookie now.”   Parents want to say soothingly, “No, honey, you have to wait until after dinner for a cookie.”    Such a response will, almost certainly, make matters worse. “It’s loving, logical and reasonable,” notes Dr. Karp. “And it’s infuriating to a toddler. Now they have to say it over harder and louder to get you to understand.”   

Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands and says:    “You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”   

It’s hard to imagine an adult talking like this in a public place. But Dr. Karp notes that this is the same form of “active listening” ithat adults use all the time.    The goal is not simply to repeat words, but to make it clear that you hear someone’s complaint. 

“If you were upset and fuming mad, I might say, ‘I know. I know. I know. I get it. I’m really really sorry. I’m sorry.’ That sounds like gibberish out of context,” he says.    

On his DVD, Dr. Karp demonstrates the method. 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.   

Dr. Karp also offers methods for teaching children patience, and he suggests regularly giving children small victories — like winning at a game of wrestling.

“If you give them these little victories all day long, when you want them to do something for you, they’re much more likely to do it.”   

Sometimes, of course, excessive tantrums can signal an underlying health problem, so parents with a difficult child should consult with a pediatrician.    

“The thing about toddlers is that they are uncivilized,” Dr. Karp says. “Our job is to civilize them, to teach them to say please and thank you, don’t spit and scratch and don’t pee anywhere you want. These are the jobs you have with a toddler.”   

sole source: NYTimes article of 2/5/08 by Tara Parker-Pope.  www.nytimes.com  

Tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com

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