Here’s A Trick That Will Help Your Toddler Calm Down

August 23, 2017
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Here’s A Trick That Will Help Your Toddler Calm Down

Toddlers really have a mind of their own. They may not always have the words to express how they’re feeling, so their emotions come through tantrums or meltdowns.

Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Blockspeaks about how essential it is to speak “toddlerese” when you’re talking to a toddler.

So when your toddler is having a tantrum, you’re not going to make much headway trying to convince him or her to be reasonable if you’re not speaking his language.

A toddler’s primary language is an emotional one.  If you’re too calm, you may be sending a message that whatever is causing him such intense emotional pain isn’t particularly important to you.

It’s highly likely that he’ll come away with the idea that you’re just not getting it, and he’ll pick up the intensity of the tantrum.

Karp recommends you address a toddler’s tantrums by mirroring his emotions with a few notches less intensity (it doesn’t help if you’re both screaming and flailing, after all!), and to repeat back to him the problem that he’s trying to express.

A mother describes what that looks like: “I jump in, lovingly, but passionately, repeating his words and almost matching his feelings, with a broken record kind of repetition. Billy is mad, mad, MAD!!!! He’s angrrrrrrrry!!! Billy says, No, no, no! NO!!! I don’t like it!!”

You may look really silly doing this, but it’s a good trick and it can stop a tantrum in its tracks.

Effectively, you’re communicating “I understand your emotions, I understand your problem, and it is important to me.”

And that is the kind of understanding isn’t just something toddlers need.

So this doesn’t mean is saying to your husband, “You’re so mad! So so mad that I spoke badly about you to your mother! You feel so so betrayed!”

When speaking to adults, you can use adult speak, but the principle you use is exactly the same.

A person will be a lot less upset if you can convincingly show them that you understand what they’re feeling (by mirroring the emotion, but with less intensity) and that you understand the problem well enough to put it in your own words. Repeating your understanding of the problem also contributes to making it clear that you care, and you want to listen.

Dr. Karp’s little trick is ultimately just about compassion. Basically, the root of that word means “to suffer with” a person, to feel what they feel. Without compassion, there’s no true connection.”

Problems need to be met with solutions, however part of the solution is the willingness to engage with compassion in whatever frustration or sorrow the other person is feeling.

This is why the principle works so well on a kid who’s having a meltdown — as it’s legitimately meeting part of his needs so that even if he doesn’t get the popsicle he wanted, he’s gotten something better: compassion, connection as well as understanding.

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