February 19, 2008

Dr Harvey Karp: "You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’"

Dr. Karp, the sultan of swaddle, soothe and swing, has a new book out an August pub date for the revised edition of his 2005 book [huh? -ed.] The Happiest Toddler On The Block. Because apparently, "Logic and persuasion, common tools of modern parenting," don't work on toddlers. [Never mind that ridiculous straw toddler setup: everyone knows the real common tools of modern parenting are timeouts and television.]

Karp's breakthrough--or at least the hook for the new book--is to calm the screaming toddler by reflecting and repeating his out-of-control demands:

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.’ ”

The Times reporter seems to think this is embarrassing for a parent to do in public, but frankly, it sounds a lot less shameful than smacking the kid and potato-sacking him out to the car for a whupping. Full disclosure: Cookie is a DT advertiser.

Coping With the Caveman in the Crib [nyt]

7 Comments

Am I nuts or is this not a new book? I think I have a paperback copy of this at home. (I'll be damned if I've gotten around to reading it - that's probably why my kid acts like a caveman)

[wait, may 31, 2005?? ah there's a new, revised edition--coming out in august. why is this news now? -ed.]

I prefer the Bugs Bunny method - confuse the kid by saying, "You don't want a cookie." back to them repeatedly and then throw in, "You do want a cookie." They don't know what hit them and they'll be happy they won the argument - even though they didn't get the cookie. :-)

[Wabbit season! -ed.]

Once again, the Times stuns me with its ability to report on something that is brand new! and exciting! even though parents know that it's been around for years.

I will say that Karp's hypothesis that children develop much in the same manner that man developed over time is pretty intriguing, though caveman-speak didn't help us too much.

This approach -- indicating that you understand what the kid wants -- actually does work pretty well in my experience, but I can't see any particular reason to leave out big, complicated words like "a".

I started by teaching our 2 y/o the idea of waiting for things by counting (it does not matter if they can count correctly) it is about marking time. It started when Maya would fuss over her mum being behind a closed door. I would pretend to be Maya (role play) and would start counting and clapping my hands, eventually Ana would come out and we would make a big fuss over our success, at getting the door open. It was not long before Maya knew that when she heard "soon" or similar words (often said at the same time to help link them in her memory) that she had to wait a while and given the limited attention span of the average 2 y/o she would often forget what she was waiting for and go off and do some other activity, without a fuss.

Another trick is to use emoticons (happy and sad faces etc.) to teach the child the link between words, behavior and emotions. Maya now describes in simple terms how she and others are feeling, rather than being ruled by her feelings, she has become a reporter of them.

When there is a fuss we can point to her and say "Ah look, ANGRY face!" and she will reply "NO NO! Not angry", then more often or not she will moderate her behavior.

Not only do we acknowledge Maya's feelings but we have given her the tools to recognize her own feelings. A two y/o can learn cooperation and self control, you do not need to punish them or treat them as if they were a midget sociopath in order to have them behave in a way that suits you.

I've tried the Bugs Bunny method on my 3 1/2 year old ... it doesn't work.

Kaz, it works surprisingly well with kids up until about 3, but only in non-tantrum situations. I used to try to confuse the kid into admitting that she is, in fact, a monkey, and not a princess (always trying to get my anti-Disney message across, Karl Rove talking point-style!) and it worked quite well.

BTW, Bugs Bunny is also a great tool for promoting carrot-eating. So far she hasn't tried making her friends eat animals made of dynamite, run off cliffs, or anything like that so I don't see the downside...

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