The Secret Weapon to Tame a Tantrum? Act like a Toddler

The dictionary does not hold enough adjectives to describe how parents feel when faced with toddler tantrums. We've seen families get booted from flights and a kindergartener get arrested as a result of epic meltdowns. Is there a sure-fire method to stop a toddler in the midst of an outburst? Probably not. But according to a leading pediatrician, tots are like little cavemen who need to be tamed. The way to calm them is to understand their language -- and act like a toddler.

Related: Toddlers with angry parents may have more temper tantrums

"Well, toddlers are not so much little children as they are little cavemen and if you spend an afternoon with them you know they're uncivilized," Dr. Harvey Karp, creator of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, tells Diane Mizota on Away We Grow. "They'll wipe their mouths on your blouse and they'll pee anywhere they want then they'll throw things at you. So it's important to understand this because that changes they way you speak to them...especially when they're upset."

Children playing with building blocksKarp says when faced with a tantrum, parents typically want to start with their "agenda" first, meaning mom and dad want that fit to end, stat. Instead, he believes parents first need to acknowledge what their mini-caveman wants using something Karp calls "toddler-ese." As the child calms down, you return to your parental agenda. The goal is to teach the child to be more responsive with their communication and learn more patience at a young age, which will help them -- and their parents -- as they grow up.

Karp breaks his approach into three steps: use short phrases, repeat what the child says, and mirror one-third of the child's emotions in tone and gesture. In other words, be an adult but act like a toddler.

Says Karp: "You'll look like an idiot in front of other people when you get down on their [your child's] level and say, 'You're mad mad, mad, you want cookies right now and you're mad, you're not even looking at me right now you're so mad, honey.' Then they [the child] start to look at you and then you go, 'But no. No cookies, honey.'" (The Atlantic recently posted video of Karp in action; it's pretty entertaining.)

According to Karp, this strategy -- short phrases, repetition and mirroring -- also works when dealing with upset teens and even adults because it allows them to express their emotions in an acceptable way. He says, "...if I use short phrases, repetition, and mirror some of your emotion and I say something like this, 'Look, I get it, I get it, I get it. I am sorry, sorry, sorry'...you're still angry but at least now you feel like I'm contrite, I understand how upset you are and it allows you to kind of express yourself because if you don't express your emotions, they don't go away."

What do you think of toddler-ese? Would you use it?

Also on Shine:
How to be a calmer mom
The secret to staying active when you're a mom
7 fights worth having with your kids
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