Let Peace Reign: Dealing With Toddler Tantrums

Posted on Apr 15, 2021 by 2 Comments

How Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, hasn’t won the Nobel Peace Prize is a mystery to me because this guy is a freaking genius.

I’ve been reading his book because, frankly, I’m at my wit’s end with our 2 year old. All our previous tricks have stopped working and we’re now experiencing major meltdowns. It’s no big mystery as to why. Our newest addition to the family - now three months old - has really thrown a wrench in to our toddler’s world. So now she throws a fit at the slightest provocation.

Here, in a nutshell, is what used to work: distraction, ignoring bad behavior and reasoning. According to Karp, that is the exact WRONG way to deal with a tantrum throwing toddler, who he affectionately calls cavemen (or cavewomen or cavepeople but do we really need to be p.c. when all hell is breaking loose?!?).

Anyway, to talk to a caveman you have to speak caveman. That, essentially, is what his book is all about. It teaches parents a new language, really, and even though I’m just now learning it and getting the hang of speaking it, this new language really works.

Here’s what he advises: mirror their emotions (he calls this the fast food rule), connect with respect, and asses/deal with good, moderate and bad behaviors.

I’ve switched from immediately distracting my toddler (or rather, trying to) when she melts down to repeating back to her what she’s feeling with a certain amount of emotion in my face and voice.

Picture this: Sophie and her friend, Eliana are in the sand box playing with the sand toys. They both want the same shovel. Eliana gets it first and begins to play with it. Sophie throws her head back, opens her mouth wide and wails.

Instead of saying, “hey, look at this bucket”, I get down on her level and say, “Sophie’s mad. Mad, mad, mad. Sophie wants the shovel. Shovel. Sophie wants shovel.” At this point, while still crying, she looks at me and says, “yeah.” A little more crying ensues, but not at the decibel it was before.

As she begins to understand that I “get it” and that she doesn’t have to yell louder to make me get it, she calms down. At this point, I can actually get through to her and say. “Sophie wants the shovel, but no. Nooo. It’s Eliana’s turn. Eliana has the shovel. Let’s look what else is here. Oh, look. bucket and car. Which one do you want, the bucket or car? It’s Eliana’s turn with the shovel, so let’s play with the bucket or car until it’s Sophie’s turn.”

You know what - it freaking works! I think it works because I’ve stopped and listened to her. And you know, who doesn’t want to be listened to? I hate it when someone (including my child) doesn’t listen to me. So, I get why she responds.

Yeah, I sound like a freak at times and everyone is looking at me, but hey, if my kid is screaming her head off, people would be looking no matter what. Right?

photo credit: Citril

Posted in: Parenting

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  • http://furiousshirley.com shannon

    thanks for writing this. my 17 month old daughter has started throwing some pretty nasty tantrums. we spoil her rotten and she inherited my lack of patience. anyway, i also relied on distraction … it was easy. now it doesn’t work. i am going to try mirroring her emotions and then reasoning in ‘baby speak’ tomorrow morning when ava starts tugging and my legs and screaming at me b/c i’m not making her breakfast fast enough. lol hope it works!

  • admin

    Me too! Good luck. And do remember that if tantrums have been working for her, she won’t let go of them right away. She may even test you to see how serious you are. But keep at it, I think you’ll at least get through to her brain and hopefully she see that you understand her needs even if you’re not giving in to them fast enough. Let me know how it goes.