Toddler Behavior – Parenting – Communication – Kids – Tara Parker-Pope – New York Times
Dr. Karp notes that in terms of brain development, a toddler is primitive, an emotion-driven, instinctive creature that has yet to develop the thinking skills that define modern humans. Logic and persuasion, common tools of modern parenting, “are meaningless to a Neanderthal,” Dr. Karp says.
The challenge for parents is learning how to communicate with the caveman in the crib. “All of us get more primitive when we get upset, that’s why they call it ‘going ape,’ ” Dr. Karp says. “But toddlers start out primitive, so when they get upset, they go Jurassic on you.”
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, and reflecting the child’s emotions in your tone and facial expressions. And, most awkward, it means repeating the very words the child is using, 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.”
Often, a parent will adopt a soothing tone saying, “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.
“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 same form of “active listening” is a method 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.