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Traveling with young children strikes fear in the heart of every parent — tight quarters and the expectation of good behavior definitely don’t mix with the preschool set. But famed pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Happiest Toddler on the Block (also available on DVD) and The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep has ways to keep you from disturbing fellow passengers. Known for equating toddlers to primitive humans, aka cavemen, he advocates communicating with them on barely-above-grunting levels. Here’s his take:

Dr. Karp’s must-haves for traveling with children:
  • Favorite stuffed animals and blankets
  • Snacks they love
  • Things that are new and engaging — little toys, games and favorite DVDs
  • Hand stamps and/or stickers that can be awarded every hour for good behavior

American Way: Meltdowns are inevitable. How do you nip them in the bud?
Harvey Karp: The biggest mistake parents make is to try to settle the child by being overly calm and reasonable. When we get upset, we want to be acknowledged and know that those around us know our feelings. The way you do that with a toddler is to use an unusual technique called “Toddler-ese.” There are three steps — short phrases, repetition and mirroring a third of their feelings.

[Say] something like, “You’re mad-mad-mad. You don’t want to be here. You want to get up and walk. You don’t want to sit down here. You don’t like this chair anymore. You just want to get up and go-go-go.”

When you do that, the child feels heard and acknowledged. Oftentimes, they will then calm down a little bit and allow you to distract them with a toy, game or treat or allow you to turn on the DVD.

AW: It’s not the easiest thing to do in public.
HK: Either you have a screaming kid or you sound weird. Either way, you’re going to be embarrassed in public. Hopefully, this way you’ll be embarrassed but not [too badly]. The funny thing about the Toddler-ese approach is that it’s not at all embarrassing when you do it when your child is very happy.

AW: You mention a DVD player — is there such a thing as too much screen time?
HK: Not on an airplane. You’re taking Tarzan and putting him in a tuxedo and having him do ballroom dancing.

For more information on Dr. Karp, visit www.happiestbaby.com.