Toddlers, Neanderthals, and active listening

A recent New York Times article, “Coping With the Caveman in the Crib”, by Tara Pope explored the challenge of communicating with upset toddlers. Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, known for his book “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, has now written “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.” Explaining his view that toddlers’ brains are at a primitive stage of development, driven by emotion and instinct, he says that logic and persuasion are useless in dealing with a Neanderthal.

Dr. Karp says that all of us get “more primitive” when we’re upset and that adults have learned to use “active listening” with each other when one has a complaint. Through our communication approach we can improve the process of resolution.

When we are in conflict, we need to know that the other person has heard and understood our complaint. Only then can we move toward a resolution to the problem. If we attempt to jump ahead to the solution before we acknowledge each party’s position and identify the person’s actual interests behind the stated position, we are likely to fail. Either we reach no resolution to the dispute, or we reach one that will collapse.

Posted in Basics of Mediation and Conflict, Saturday, February 9th, 2008

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