Parenting 101, Follow-up: Teri, Cayden

Temper Tantrums
Dr. Phil checks in with parents who were having a tough time disciplining their children.
Teri's a stay-at-home mother of two who is worn down by her son Cayden's tantrums. "His tantrums occur probably two or three times a day, minimum. Always when his dad is at work," says Teri, who has tried everything she can think of to calm her son down. "I've tried time-outs. I've tried to reason. I've tried to literally walk out of the room. And sometimes I've even tried to bribe him with candy or something. That doesn't work. He knows I'm a pushover," she says.

The tantrums have increased since she had another child. "There's been a division of attention," says Dr. Phil. "So does it seem logical that this is attention-getting behavior?" Teri agrees. "And when dad's home, it doesn't happen as much, which could be one of two things. Either he doesn't think he can get away with it with his dad, or there's now double the people there to provide attention so he doesn't feel deprived as much." Dr. Phil recommends that Teri think about creating a special "big boy" relationship with her son, so he doesn't feel threatened by the new baby.
Dr. Harvey Karp, author of the book and video The Happiest Baby on the Block, returns to the show with his new book The Happiest Toddler on the Block. Dr. Karp visited Teri at her home to teach her his technique for stopping tantrums as soon as they start.

"The first thing I want you to understand about Cayden," said Dr. Karp, "is in a lot of ways he's like a little caveman. You need to know how to speak his language. Start out by letting him know you get his message first before you give your message. And you do it in a kind of a repetitive, primitive way." He gave Lisa a demonstration: "Like, 'You want! You want! You want!' It's passionate. It's energetic. If he's still upset about it, then you repeat it another three times. At that point, they give in."

Teri gave it a try back to Dr. Karp, using enthusiastic gestures: "You want that cup! That's your cup! You want it!" Teri got a chance to test it out on her son later, when he began to throw a tantrum about taking a nap. Teri energetically repeated Cayden's message back to him, all the while getting him ready for his nap.

Teri: You don't want to go to bed! You don't want to go to bed! But it's time.

Cayden: I don't wanna...

You don't want to! No, you don't want to! You don't want to!

Another common struggle Teri has with Cayden is getting him to wear another shirt when his favorite one is dirty. But this time, there was no struggle.

Teri: We can wear this shirt! We can wear this one! This is a cool shirt!

Cayden let her put the shirt on him, and then crawled under the covers. Dr. Karp explained, "It's a learning process, the more you do it, the better you'll get and the better he'll understand."

Back on the stage, Dr. Phil speaks with Dr. Karp about his technique. "Your number one thing here is to make the child know he's been heard, right? That they need to know that you're experiencing their message."

"Right," says Dr. Karp. "Before you get to your message. Whenever you talk to anyone who's upset, whether it's a child or an adult, the most important thing is you let them know that you got their message first before you take your turn. We as parents are used to saying, 'No, you can't go out outside.' We get to our message without repeating back, 'You want to go, you want to go now.' And we have to get to that first." He explains that the more upset a toddler is, then you have to be more demonstrative of your language.

"Do you ever worry about giving the child undivided attention for bad behavior?" Dr. Phil asks Dr. Karp. "You got a child throwing a tantrum here and all of a sudden he's got mom squared up, giving undivided attention."

"The first thing I want the child to know is I'm not against them, I love them, I see them, I understand what's going on," replies Dr. Karp. "So I'm going to acknowledge them in their language. Now if the tantrum goes on, I'm not going to be an audience there for a half-hour. I'm going to let them know I love them, I join with them, and then I might say something like, 'You're so mad, you go ahead and cry and I'm going to check on you in a minute to see how you're doing.'"

Teri says it was absolutely effective for her and Cayden. Read more about Dr. Karp's approach.