Tuesday, February 5, 2008

On a Toddler's Terms

In today's NYT, there was an article on how toddlers are little tiny neanderthals and Harvey Karp, the Happiest Baby on the Block, says to get down and communicate with the tantrum prone on their terms.

But Dr. Karp’s method of toddler communication is not for the self-conscious. 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, 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.’ ”

I'm trying to imagine what this looks like in practice. But it makes sense. This is sort of the "active listening" of cognitive coaching taken to an extreme. Would it really work, or will it just infuriate a little tantrum machine?


Julie said...

Oh my gosh. My friend Meredith's sister Melinda has a very very strong willed daughter who has never in 2+ years responded to love and logic language. SO Melinda has begun doing exactly this and it is working wonders. After repeating the phrases like "You want jello for breakfast. You want it. The red jello. You think that's a good idea" over and over. She then says "no, you can have yogurt or oatmeal" and the little girl looks at Melinda like she's crazy and makes a new good choice. I think it's like active listening too. Acknowledging what they want and moveing forward. Aidan isn't prone to tantrums...mostly hitting me full in the face when he doesn't get his way. Luckily it's pretty rare.

lisa said...

When we were first coming to realize that Owen had some big communication lags, this method really worked well with him.

I still have to use a lot of repetition with him and I'm starting it with Liv, who also seems to be lacking language for her age.