“Toddlers aren’t mini-adults, or even mini-big kids. They’re more like uncivilized little cave-kids.” – The Happiest Toddler on the Block
How to Successfully Communicate with Your Toddler
Do you ever feel like you are speaking a different language when trying to talk to your toddler? Although your toddler now has the receptive and expressive language skills to carry on a basic conversation, it does not mean that communication is now smooth sailing. Dr. Harvey Karp is a well-known pediatrician and author of the “Happiest Toddler on the Block”. Dr. Karp gives great advice on how to communicate successfully with your toddler by acting as her ambassador, following “the fast food rule”, and using her “toddler-ese” language.
Because your toddler’s brain is immature, she tends to react impulsively and emotionally. Dr. Karp suggests that as your toddler’s ambassador you can build a good relationship by giving love, food, attention, hugs; setting and enforcing firm limits as needed; communicating with respect; and speaking the language a toddler’s immature brain can understand.
‘Fast Food Rules’ of Communication
In order to better communicate with your toddler, Dr. Harvey Karp recommends that you follow the “fast food rules” of communication. Why fast food? A fast food worker is trained to always repeat your order. The first rule is whoever is most upset talks first; the other person listens, repeats back what they’re told, and only then do they take their turn to talk. The second rule is that what you say to an upset person is not as important as the way that you say it. The best parents use these fast food rules instead of words that hurt, compare, distract, and rush to squelch feelings. Keep in mind that the rule is whoever is most upset goes first. Therefore, you go first if she’s in danger, being aggressive, or breaking an important family rule. In those situations you’re the one who’s most upset!!
Using the ‘Toddler-ese’ Talking Style
After your upset toddler has the opportunity to talk, now it’s your turn. Dr. Karp suggests that you use “toddler-ese”, a talking style that works because it is your toddler’s native tongue. We often use toddler-ese when our child is happy but we forget to use it when they are upset. We tend to try to use calm quiet tones when our child is upset, however, this often doesn’t work. Toddlers can’t hear well when they are upset because strong feelings zap the brain’s language center. Also they may feel misunderstood- if they are upset and we act calm they think we don’t get it so they feel the need to yell louder and harder so that we do!
Toddler-ese requires that you use short phrases and the more upset the child is the more simple words should be. For example, instead of “I know that you feel mad about it” you say “You’re mad! Mad! Mad!!” The next toddler-ese technique is repetition. An upset toddler often misses our initial words. Therefore it is important to repeat the same phrase 3 to 8 times just to get toddler’s attention. The final technique is mirroring. A toddler might not understand your words but she is great at reading your voice and face. Therefore, mirror a bit of your child’s emotion with your tone of voice, facial expression, and body language.
Life with an emotionally and socially immature toddler is never dull and offers many challenges. Dr. Harvey Karp’s book “The Happiest Toddler on the Block” is a great resource for how to communicate with your child by acting as her ambassador, following “the fast food rule”, and using her toddler-ese language. Hopefully these suggestions will foster better communication between you and your little one!