Tips for a Happy Toddler and a Happy You
Dr. Harvey Karp’s tips for the happiest toddler on the block
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
ξ 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
ξ 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
ξ 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 effective
Toddler-ese- has a lot of simple pointing
and grunting, especially when upset.
ξ Everyone gets more primitive when
they are angry and toddlers are more
primative to start.
ξ Calmly talking to the toddler will not
work. You need to get on their level
and communicate how they
ξ 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 to 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
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
ξ This does not feel normal, but it is
your child’s language. We already
use toddler-ese when child is being
ξ More than 50% of the time, the child
will give up what they want because
they are happy that you listened.
ξ 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
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
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
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
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 will.
4. Give them a reward but make them
Wait before you give it. First 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.
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