A happy and content child is what every parent wishes for, so we spoke to Dr. Harvey Karp the author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block, to find out his thoughts on nurturing happiness.
What are the most important things for a happy baby? The key for a happy baby is for them to be well fed, clean, calmed and loved.
Were you a happy baby? Yes, I think I was a very happy baby. My parents often told me that I loved my dummy. I was breast fed also, and I think that made me happy and content, too.
What makes you laugh? Seeing children enjoying playing in the playground makes me laugh and smile.
What’s the best way to make kids laugh? Do something that’s silly and unexpected, like singing happy birthday using the wrong words. One of the basis to humour is when something happens that you were not expecting. For jokes or slapstick, that’s really all about the unexpected coming at you right when you thought you knew what was going on.
Why are some babies grumpy? Is it just their personality? Yes, I do think that part of it is what we would call their temperament. Part of it is from parents, loving parents who may not have the skills to meet their babies needs. Or, putting children in environments that don’t meet their needs.
Is it unrealistic to expect anyone to be happy all the time? Yes, of course, none of us are happy all of the time. But it is realistic for parents to believe that there are ways of helping their unhappy child be happier. There are ways to solve tantrums relatively quickly, there are ways to calm even a colicky baby relatively quickly, too. I think parents are too ready to feel like failures and to accept failure. Most books will tell parents there’s really nothing you can do about this situation, and that feels like a failure to parents and it’s not the way effective parents should work.
What’s the best way to cheer up a grumpy baby? The best way to cheer up a baby, is by doing the 5 S’s, which are swaddling, the side or stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking. This is explained in the Happiest Baby book, online and on the DVD – most people find that the DVD is the best and most easy way to learn these techniques.
What's the best way to cheer up a grumpy toddler? To stop a toddler's temper tantrum the best thing is to acknowledge what they are feeling in a language that the brain can understand, which is what I call ‘Toddler-ese’. 'Toddler-ese' is a right brain language, because upset young children have turned off their left side of the brain, often they can’t even hear the words parents are saying. The number one mistake new parents make is that the more upset the toddler gets they either yell or they speak in a very calm voice with long sentences, and that actually is extremely frustrating to young children as well.
If that doesn’t work the second step is a technique called ‘kind ignore’, which I explain in the Happiest Toddler on the block book and DVD. The kind ignore is acknowledging your child’s feelings when they’re upset in this special ‘toddler-ese’ way, and then if the child continues to be upset and the tantrum is not relenting you turn your back on them for 10 seconds and pretend to be busy with something else, and then you come back to them and continue to acknowledge their feelings again in ‘toddler-ese’.
What do you think are the ingredients for happiness? The ingredients for happiness are feeling respected, feeling secure, getting good sleep and having lots of friends and people who love you around you.
Dr. Harvey Karp is author of The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block, and Happiest Baby DVD and Happiest Toddler DVD.