Can't get your baby to sleep? Pediatrician Harvey Karp can help, and he's coming to Lexington

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comApril 22, 2014 

Dr. Harvey Karp

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  • IF YOU GO

    Baptist Health Lexington: Expecting Great Things Maternity Fair

    When: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. April 26. Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, will speak at 12:15 p.m.

    Where: Keeneland Entertainment Center, 4201 Versailles Rd.

    Cost: Free

    More information: BaptistHealthLexington.com

Like a rock star being asked over and over to sing his most famous hit, Dr. Harvey Karp, the California pediatrician who has developed a vaunted system of soothing cranky and colicky babies, keeps getting the same request.

"The question most parents ask is, 'How can I get my baby to sleep,'" said Karp, the featured speaker at Saturday's Baptist Health Lexington: Expecting Great Things Maternity Fair.

Karp introduced his system in a 2002 DVD called The Happiest Baby on the Block. It involves 5 S's — swaddling, stomach or side position, shushing, swinging and sucking.

But Karp has expanded beyond the infant phase and is talking more about his follow-up effort, The Happiest Toddler on the Block, published in 2004.

How parents gain and share information has changed a lot since Karp started sharing his child-rearing advice. Now there is an instant virtual link to an endless number of mommy bloggers or self-proclaimed parenting experts who are more than willing to tell you how to raise a child.

"It's the good news and bad news of the Internet," he said. There is lots of information and not much context. "It's like a dog drinking at a fire hydrant" — you can only take so much in, he said.

But much of what is considered common knowledge is wrong, he said. The way to soothe a toddler in full tantrum is not by being calm and reasonable, he said. The toddler brain can't grasp what is happening. Instead, Karp has coined the term "toddler-ese." That means using short, repetitive sentences and being at least 30 percent as intense as the children when speaking.

This, he said, lets the child know you understand how he or she feels and are willing to help work things out.

An excerpt from his website explains the technique like this: "Imagine your 18-month-old is standing at the door, screaming to go outside. Don't just squash his hopes by telling him why he can't go ('It's raining'). First, acknowledge his feelings ... in his own energetic language. Say in Toddler-ese, 'You say, 'Go, Mommy. Go! Go!' You want out, now! Out! Out! Out! You're bored, bored, bored!'"

In addition to being an author and pediatrician, Karp is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. He completed medical school training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, a pediatric residency at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and fellowships in ambulatory pediatrics and child development at UCLA. He has been in pediatric practice, for almost 30 years.

Karp's overall goal, he said, is to let people understand they are "doing something much different than previous generations." As families scatter, he said, there aren't grandparents, great-grandparents, and aunts and uncles around to support growing families.

But he hopes he can help fill that void.

"The greatest joy I have is passing along these very simple techniques so parents can be the best parents that they want to be," he said.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: bluegrassmoms.com.

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