Monday 22 December 2014

How to tame a toddler? Act like one!

Caitriona Palmer reports from Washington on the latest parenting craze that has American moms and dads acting like visitors from the Stone AgePaediatrician to the stars: Child-rearing guru Harvey Karp

They lurk in living rooms across America; peeing on the carpet, painting on the walls, hammering chinks into the surface of your favourite mahogany coffee table.

They are uncivilised beings. Grunting, farting, picking their noses and biting and screaming when they don't get their way.

They are toddlers. Or, as America's most influential paediatrician and child-rearing guru, Harvey Karp, controversially likes to think – little Neanderthals – mini-cavepeople.

"Toddlers aren't big babies, or little adults," says Karp, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. "They're much more like . . . well . . . visitors from the Stone Age."

"And when you understand that they are uncivilised – that they are cavemen – that gives you the proper point of view in terms of what your job is, what your expectation should be," he told the Irish Independent.

I have a personal interest in what this good-humoured 61-year-old native New Yorker is telling me.

Having shepherded two children through the wilderness years of toddlerdom, I am about to experience it for the very last time with my third child, 11-month-old Neasa.

Neasa is sweet-natured and cheerful but – with two older siblings to scamper after – scarily nimble and switched-on. I have a funny feeling that this foray into toddlerdom will be my most exciting yet. An intuition that Karp rightly stumbles upon after I send him a photo of my three kids before our interview.

"Wow! Neasa! That smile! She looks like such a sweet baby," Karp says enthusiastically over the phone. "But boy, underneath that beautiful smile, she looks like a force to be reckoned with!"

Eight years ago when my first child, Liam, was born, a friend gave me The Happiest Baby on the Block, with a handwritten inscription on the inlay, "You'll need this."

Karp's novel techniques for calming babies, known as the five Ss – swaddling, swinging, sucking, 'shushing' sounds, and side or stomach placements – have made the book and accompanying DVDs massive bestsellers.

Endorsed by Hollywood royalty – as a Los Angeles county paediatrician for the last 30 years Karp has administered to the children of Madonna, Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Pfeiffer – the energetic stepfather of one is something of a celebrity himself.

Recently, he was anointed "America's pre-eminent baby shaman" by The Atlantic magazine and voted the second most influential person "in family life today" by Scholastic Parent & Child magazine – second only to the winning category, "moms".

Karp is talking to me in 'Toddler-ese' – a primitive form of communication that he believes makes it easy for an adult to communicate with a toddler who is in the midst of an epic meltdown – or a "little tsunami".

When human beings get upset, says Karp, their brains become off balance. The left part of their brain, the civilised, rational part becomes dialled down. The primitive right-half takes over.

"In the US, and I think in Ireland as well, we have a term for that," Karp tells me. "We call it going ape."

Irish Independent

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