I have something to confess. As an only (and very spoiled) child for the first two and a half years of my life, I was less than ecstatic when my little brother was born. While my mother breast-fed the wrinkly creature I threw wooden blocks at his head and stomped around the backyard wailing, “Caitlin don’t get ‘nuff ‘tention.” And when my parents were busy cooing over his diapers, I pounded sticky couscous to the kitchen floor so that they were forced to deal with my mess. If only Dr. Harvey Karp had been around to give my parents a lesson in dealing with the primitive species that is an angry toddler.
A recent New York Times article about toddler tantrums sheds light on Dr. Karp’s book “The Happiest Baby on the Block” and his new theories on coping with toddler antics. Even infants suffering from colic are fairly easy to please so Karp’s infant-gratifying techniques – what baby isn’t soothed by food, jiggling and methodic rocking? – did not leave me particularly impressed.
Calming an enraged three-year old, however, is a task that leaves both parents and babysitters shaking in their food-stained socks. The man that has discovered the cure to toddler mayhem surely deserves a round of applause.
Or does he? According to the Times, Karp has decided that toddlers, at least mentally speaking, are less than human. In fact, your tiny tot – driven by animal instinct and irrational emotions – may be no better than a monkey.
In order to teach your child that throwing blocks at her new sibling’s head and mashing sticky food into the floor out of spite is unacceptable, you must be able to connect with her. Human connection generally necessitates being on the same playing field, or at least an empathetic understanding of where the other person is coming from.
Karp argues that a toddler will never do what you’re asking them to if you don’t speak to them in a language they understand. So, parents, recall your early childhood animal instinct, bend down to your child’s level and repeat the words and tones they use (read: simple, broken sentences and emotive language) until they’ve been silenced. Once they are quiet, you can try to rationalize with them and hope that your logic gets through. Karp also suggests – and this is an extremely valid point – that parents choose which battles are worth fighting, and let the child have insignificant victories in games and other fun activities.
My hesitation is this, if we respond to children with the instinctual, irrational behavior they use are we not just perpetuating a tantrum cycle? And how will they learn who is boss in their animal kingdom of screeches and cries? We may have appeased their childish minds for the time being but I’m not sure that getting down on all fours and speaking in kiddie jargon is going to teach any real lessons.
I can’t help envisioning an apocalyptic 8th grade classroom filled with adolescents who haven’t yet learned their lesson, never having left their toddler stages. They screech, “I don’t want to do work. I don’t want. I don’t want.” While this is a bit extreme – clearly toddlers will grow out of their terrible twos and threes all on their own, right? – it does raise a pressing question: how, Dr. Karp, does a parent react to teenage moodiness and rebellion? Surely not by rebelling themselves and then gently explaining to their teenager why acting like this is uncalled for.
That being said, I’m sure most parents will be grateful for the knowledge that there is a reasonably simple way to pacify their tantrum-throwing toddler. Don’t be shy to react to your child using a more emotional, far less mature, language that they will recognize and that shows you recognize them.