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Ask Dr. Karp is a monthly Q & A series with world-renowned pediatrician Harvey Karp. Each month, he'll join us on the our site Blog to answer questions from our fans. ___________________Q. I have a 2 1/2-year-old who makes himself vomit when he gets in trouble, or just because. Plus, I can't take him anywhere anymore. He is loud, screams, and is starting to hit and kick. There's no calming him down. Do I just lock myself in the house? Talking, telling him he's going to get into trouble, or putting him in his room doesn't work.___________________Dr. Karp: Three things come to mind: First, this sounds tough! Second, this is totally normal (yes, even the vomiting). Third, don't despair! There are lots of things you can do to make it better, in just days.Here's what I recommend to quell the tantrums and boost your little guy's cheerful cooperation:1. Encourage good behavior with "respect and rewards."The best way to foster better behavior in your toddler is to flash a little green light to signal "Yes!" when you see him being good. Tiny rewards like smiles, pats on the back, hand checks, and even just showing interest nourish your child's self-esteem. And bigger bonuses like loving comments, star charts, and even occasional food treats further grease the wheels of cooperation.Comment on his good effort when he tries, even if he fails. ("Good try pouring the milk! It's pretty heavy.") It's always better to lovingly acknowledge (walk with him in his disappointment) rather than rushing in to "make it all better" or try to rescue him from his failure. In the end we all learn more from failure than from success. Playing the boob is another way to boost his confidence and make him feel like a winner. This silly game makes kids instantly feel stronger and smarter when we play-act being a little slow, confused, and klutzy.2. Avoid tantrum triggersNo one knows your child better than you do, and I'm sure you have a pretty good idea of which situations knock him off-balance. So think ahead and be prepared. Some common avoidable tantrum triggers are fatigue, hunger, stimulants (caffeine, chocolate, sugar, decongestants), being ignored, unexpected changes, and being cooped up. Toddlers thrive on outdoor play, so letting your son grab some fresh air in your backyard or the park two or three times a day is often just the ticket for erasing frowns and grumpy moods! Also, keep the peace in your house. Many toddlers imitate violence they see on TV and computers, or react to their parents fights at home.3. Plan what you'll do when he gets upsetThreats and logic usually fall flat when toddlers flip out. The best thing to do in the heat of a meltdown is to sincerely acknowledge that your child is upset using Toddler-ese, the language every upset child's brain can understand. Be prepared, however – this may not work the first four or five times! (Every child is different, but many parents say that practicing the demonstrations shown on The Happiest Toddler DVD helps them home in on the tone of voice that works best.) Once you're up to speed on Toddler-ese, you can expect it to stop tantrums at least 50 percent of the time…in under a minute!Plan to clean up the vomit quickly, without a lot of talking. When toddlers are flipping out, words can make things worse. Their language centers that understand gestures and tone of voice work well, but the ones that make sense of our words start shutting down. Their brains literally get overloaded because they can't figure out what's being said. Their brain emotion centers go wild.This brain shift is also why all little kids understand the "clap-growl" warning signal (and mild consequence). Later on, try "gossiping" about what happened or tell a brief story that weaves in the lesson you want your son to learn to keep the problem from happening again.To find out more about shrinking tantrums and raising patient, respectful, and cooperative kids, see The Happiest Toddler book and DVD.Pediatrician Harvey Karp is the author of three of America’s most popular parenting DVDs/book:s The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, and The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Birth to 5 Years. Learn more of his landmark baby, toddler, and sleep tips at the Happiest Baby website and follow @HappiestBaby and @DrHarveyKarp on twitter and like us on Facebook.Photo: Creative Donkey, Flickr
Dr. Harvey Karp is a nationally renowned pediatrician and creator of the DVDs/books, The Happiest Baby On The Block, The Happiest Toddler On The Block and The Happiest Baby Guide To Great Sleep: Birth to 5 Years.
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