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Caveman in the Crib

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A pediatrician suggests you communicate with your toddler caveman-style.


The New York Times featured unconventional advice from Dr. Harvey Karp, the author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. Dr. Karp says that in terms of brain development, a toddler is primitive and uncivilized--an emotion-driven, instinctive creature. Logic and persuasion, common tools of modern parenting, "are meaningless to a Neanderthal," Dr. Karp says.

Here's how he suggests you communicate with your "Caveman in the Crib":
• Bring yourself, both mentally and physically, down to a child's level when he or she is upset.
• Communicate in a child's own language of "toddler-ese," using short phrases with lots of repetition, and reflecting the child's emotions in your tone and facial expressions.
• Repeat the very words the child is using, over and over again--for instance, if the child says,
"Cookie now," you'd say, "You want. You want cookie. Cookie now."

We'd feel like total idiots doing this, but Dr. Karp swears it works. And when your kid's in the middle of a screaming tantrum, you'll try just about anything to make it stop, right? Maybe even "You want cookie. Cookie now."

next: Kids Wearing Condoms to School
4 comments so far | Post a comment now
melanie February 9, 2008, 7:43 PM

Please dont do this to your children. They arent going to learn this way. My daughter is 4 years old and has a very large vocabulary for her age. People always comment on how well she speaks. And I believe the reason for this is because we never have used baby talk when speaking to her, yes we used age appropriate words with her but never dropped down to her level.

Rae February 9, 2008, 11:12 PM

I agree. I’ve always spoke to my son in a “singsongy fashion”, but have always used larger words with him. I don’t tell him that things are icky, I say they are disgusting. I don’t tell him that mommy a little bit of sad. I say I feel extremely frustrated. I don’t tel him he’s bad, I say he’s misbehaving and it’s unbecoming of a young gentleman.
He’s 2 and people always comment on how well he speaks.

tiffer February 10, 2008, 1:51 PM

I personally love this book. My son is only 18 months, so I haven’t had to use the methods that often, but they do work. Honestly, I find it annoying when people expect their 18 month old to understand like a 4 year old. I don’t know why I find it annoying though. If it works, do it. That’s how I’ll take this book, if it works, I’ll do it.

Carolyn (Mom X 2) February 10, 2008, 8:57 PM

I have a 6 1/2 year old and 1 1/2 year old.

I agree that emphasizing the key words for a young child is a great tactic when emotions are heated OR you sense your lil one isn’t grasping what you are saying.

I generally speak to my kids in complete sentences and _avoid_ babyisms (ie use proper terms), but have had TONS of success in reducing tension and increasing comprehension by speaking “like a caveman”.

By finding this middle ground, you allow your child to increase his/her communication skills AND keep the peace during times of stress.

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