Tame Your Toddler's Tantrum Without Having One of Your Own

Tame Your Toddler’s Tantrums Without Having One of Your Own

Parents magazine February 2012 cover

Parents magazine Feb. 2012

Best-selling author of “The Happiest Baby on the Block” Dr. Harvey Karp offers his best discipline techniques for those hard-to-tame toddler years.

When my first child was colicky, I relied heavily on tips from Dr. Harvey Karp, best-selling author of the blockbuster DVD and book “The Happiest Baby On The Block” (Remember those five S’s?). Thankfully that stage of infant fussiness is behind my family. But now we’ve moved into a period that–dare I say it?–is even more trying: toddlerhood. I never knew two people under three feet tall would be able to push my buttons with such skill.

I know I don’t always have the best responses when they whine, fuss or demand something ridiculous, but after reading an article in the February 2012 issue of Parents magazine, I have a few more tips on how to handle the meltdowns. In the article “Is Your Toddler Driving You Crazy?” Dr. Karp asked three families to shoot home video footage documenting behavioral challenges. Then, he gave parents tips on their responses and ideas on how to curb future incidents without becoming too negative.

The discipline mistake: Instantly giving in to whining.
What parent of a young child hasn’t been at fault for this mistake? Whining grates on my nerves so much that, at some points in the day, I’d do next to anything to get my children to stop it–including giving in to their requests. But that, Dr. Karp says, is the wrong move. It only teaches them to whine more.

Instead, use your voice to let your child know you understand what she wants and how she feels. When she’s quieted down, Dr. Karp suggests a technique called “putting her on hold.” After you’ve started helping her solve whatever problem she was whining about, stop in the middle of it, hold up a finger and say, “Wait one second, one second!” Turn and pretend to busy yourself for five or so seconds before turning back to help. That, Dr. Karp says, will teach patience.

Another tip to stop whining before it starts is to offer choices whenever possible: “Do you want to wear the red or yellow shirt?” or “Do you want an apple or a banana?”

The discipline mistake: Expecting too much too soon.
All the advice in this section concentrates on rewarding as much as you reprimand. If you’re having trouble with your child obeying a certain rule, start praising him for rules he does follow. Sticker charts or checkmarks on his hand for times he does what he’s supposed to are also helpful. Dr. Karp explains a technique he calls “gossiping,” which is loudly whispering your praise to someone else (another parent or sibling) while pretending you don’t want your child to hear.

The discipline mistake: Not making your child feel heard.
As adults we understand consequences (the iPod will break if you drop it on the floor). But rather than constantly being a parent who drones on about rules and says “no” to every request, try combining loving acknowledgment with firm boundaries. After all, we all know what it feels like to be in a losing position. Dr. Karp suggests using “toddler-ese” which is simple, heartfelt language that acknowledges you understand some of your child’s emotions.