Karp’s earlier book, Happiest Baby on the Block, was hugely influential for us. We were religious with our oldest, Alexander, about using Karp’s soothing techniques. They worked, and they worked again with Rowan, although I probably pulled back a bit from the constant swaddling the second time around. (Hey, that swaddle gets hot in Florida!)
Karp’s theory is that a toddler’s development mirrors human evolution, but he rockets through evolutionary stages that took millions of years for our ancestors. So toddlers go from “charming chimp-child” to “knee-high Neanderthal” to “clever cave-kid,” and then “versatile villager” from 12 to 48 months. He writes: “Once you learn how your toddler is similar to a caveman, your true job will become clear – you must think of yourself as an ambassador from the 21st century to the Neanderthal people!”
Then Karp offers a key piece of advice: how to talk a primitive language your toddler will understand. There are a few steps to speaking “toddler-ese”: short phrases, repetition, tone and facial expressions and body gestures. Here’s where it gets funny. It really comes down to embracing those silly moments when you manage to distract your toddler from some pending meltdown. So I tried it with Alexander, our 2-year-old: He woke up one morning and starting banging on the refrigerator for juice. His frustration was growing. So I went over and joined him. I got to his level and started saying “juice, juice, juice.” I smiled and laughed, and looked like a fool. But, as Karp would say, Alexander was happy because I understood him, so he calmed down.
You need to be a bit dramatic, Karp says, and don’t be surprised if you feel uncomfortable, or even weird. Still, it shouldn’t be that foreign. Lots of people naturally speak toddler-ese; they’re people we compliment as “good with kids.” They don’t mind looking silly if it makes the kid happy.
It’s not a cure-all, but the beauty of Karp’s writing is that he reminds us of self-evident parenting skills. He didn’t invent swaddling; he just reminded us how to do it. The same goes for toddler-ese. So give it a try. And then post to tell us if it works.