Tips for a Happy Toddler and a Happy You
Dr. Harvey Karp is a pediatrician, child development specialist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine. He has developed tips to parenting and relating to toddlers to reduce tantrums, promote patience, and to make parents and children happy.
Many parents make the mistake of the little adult assumption. Toddlers are not little adults and cannot be reasoned with using logic. Toddlers are very simple and are more like cavemen. They yell, throw food, stomp, and cry when they do not get what they want. The parents’ job is to be the ambassador from the 21st century to the caveman. The priority is to communicate and form a good relationship. Good communication is attained through the fast food rule and speaking toddler-ese.
Fast food rule- letting the child know that you understand their message by repeating it back to them, and then telling them your message.
• This is similar to going through a drive-thru when the cashier repeats your
order back to you. This will only work if you repeat their message back
to them before you give them your message.
• If you try to distract them instead, it tells them that you do not care about
their feelings and you want them to just be happy. Everyone wants to be
• Whoever is hungriest for attention, is the most upset, gets to go first.
Repeat the child’s message in the same energy and wait until they
calm down a little bit to give them your message. This will make much more
Toddler-ese- Has a lot of simple pointing and grunting, especially when upset.
• Everyone gets more primitive when they are angry and toddlers are more primitive to start.
• Calmly talking to the toddler will not work. You need to get on their level and communicate how they understand.
• When speaking do these 3 things: 1. Use short words and phrases. 2.
Use a lot of repetition. 3. Mirror the child’s face and voice and
match their drama.
1. The immature brain is easily overcrowded with words. Use phrases
with 1-3 words.
2. Repeat the phrases you use over and over again. The toddler already
does this with you to help you understand.
3. Gestures and tone much more important than words, especially
with children. Use your hands and face too, like they do. Once the child
calms down, you calm down too.
• This does not feel normal, but it is your child’s language. We already use
toddler-ese when child is being positive.
• More than 50% of the time, the child will give up what they want because they
are happy that you listened.
• But it will not work every time. If it does not work, make sure you are
echoing the child’s feelings correctly. After you confirm this, you can
try 3 things: 1. Offer a hug 2. Distract them/offer a solution 3. Ignore
them/walk away if they are being really stubborn.
o If 1 minute of toddler-ese is not working, say “You’re mad so I’m going to
leave and walk away for a little while” and walk away respectfully for
about 30-60 seconds. Return and try the fast food rule and toddler-ese
again. You may need to repeat this 3 or 4 times.
o This is not punishment. You are just removing the audience so you are
not accidentally encouraging the behavior.
It would be even better to just prevent tantrums. Four ways to prevent tantrums are: 1. Avoid problem situations. 2. Use good communication all day. 3. Feed the meter. 4. Teach patience.
1. Examples of problem situations are boredom, watching too much TV,
consuming too much caffeine or sweets, and watching fighting. If they get
frustrated, they cannot speak so they have tantrums.
2. If you see a tantrum coming, use toddler-ese right away; do not wait
to communicate until after it starts.
3. Like when you park a car by a meter, you need to feed the meter with
quarters all day in order to avoid a ticket. Do this with your child. During
the day, give your toddler 3-4 minutes of undivided attention. You
are the most important person in their life; let them know they are loved.
o You can give them praise, little rewards, horseplay with them, use
o 2 good ways to feed the meter: 1. Gossip- give them praise but do it
like you are whispering. It is human nature to believe it more if it is
not directed at you. 2. Let the child feel like the winner by letting
them win little things like wrestling, getting their toys, and in little
games. Then when you really need them to do what you want, they
4. Give them a reward but make them wait before you give it. First wait
5 seconds, and you can gradually work up to a minute.
The secret is great communication that forms the base for a loving and respectful relationship. Tantrums will be less often and shorter. Mastering these ways takes time, be patient and keep at it!
Karp, H. (Producer). (2004). The happiest toddler on the block [DVD]. United States: The Happiest Baby, Inc.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 04/24/2013
Copyright © 04/24/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7490
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