It's a parent's initiation into the land of little ones - hours of crying, nights with no sleep and temper tantrums in the grocery store.
But pediatrician and author Harvey Karp says parents can eliminate these difficult moments with the right technique. His bestselling books and accompanying DVDs, "The Happiest Baby on the Block" and "The Happiest Toddler on the Block," give step-by-step instructions on how to soothe children in minutes.
With infants, it's Karp's five S's - swaddling, positioning on the side or stomach, shushing, swinging and sucking - that quiet a squalling baby.
But each of these common tricks must be performed using a specific method.
Shushing, for instance, should be done as loudly as the baby's cry and taper off as the crying subsides. And combining the S-tricks in the correct order can lull the little one into a deep, lasting sleep.
But the parenting secrets don't end with infancy.
Karp says parents should relate to toddlers as they would little cavemen. Short sentences, repetition, tone of voice and body gestures are the best communication tools.
In his "Happiest Toddler" book, Karp gives an example of a bored 15-month-old who starts banging on the door to go outside. Instead of having an even-toned conversation explaining why it's not time to go outside, the "prehistoric parent" should energetically reflect the request by saying, "Out … Out … Out! You are bored, bored, bored, and you want out!"
Once the child calms, parents can offer a distraction.
Here are the ideas behind his methods:
What do you think is fundamentally wrong with the way most people try to soothe babies?
Parents don't appreciate the concept of the missing fourth trimester.
We think that babies are ready to be born and on their own; we're trying to teach them to be independent and self-soothing. But it turns out that they're really born three months before they're ready to be in the world, and they need us to continue some of the symphony of sensations of the womb.
I'm not saying we need to carry them 24 hours a day, but even 18 hours a day is a dramatic decrease from what they're used to.
Another huge misconception is that babies cry because they're over-stimulated, but that's hardly ever the case.
If you take most babies to a loud basketball game, they'll fall asleep. It turns out that most of our babies are under-stimulated.
One of the big parts of that is sound. The sound in the womb is twice as loud as a vacuum cleaner, and to put them in a quiet room is actually sensory deprivation. That's why we use white noise, and parents (who use this method) are given a CD of white noise to play all night long.
How did you determine the five S's?
The five S's have been known for thousands of years.
There have been lots of studies on those things, but what people didn't know was how to do them correctly.
Babies are born with a reflex that works as an off switch for crying. But, like the knee reflex, you have to do it exactly right. It's an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Parents who are doing these things, but not doing them exactly right, usually get frustrated.
How did you find the perfect technique for each of the five S's?
I did it by trying it on thousands of babies as a pediatrician. I was in pediatric practice for 27 years and worked to refine it with dozens and dozens of house calls.
And now it's really connected with people.
The whole idea of baby calming and baby sleep is a serious public health issue. We're having talks with the Virginia Department of Health to teach this in clinics all over the state.
It (crying babies) pushes women over the edge for postpartum depression, leads to breast-feeding failure, leads to maternal smoking and is the No. 1 trigger for shaken baby syndrome. It puts a wedge between parents who want to feel competent and do well, but the crying makes them feel like they don't want to be around the child.
Tell us a little more about the caveman toddler.
That approach is for kids 8 months to 5 years of age, although the techniques work well beyond 5 years old.
We all know how tough it is to raise a toddler, but it's really tough to be a toddler. The left brain is immature, which is the information and logic center. That's why they're less verbal and logical and more emotional.
When they're stressed, their left brain shuts off totally. And any parent of an 8-month-old knows that they're completely uncivilized.
The other thing that is tough is that the world we put them in is strange. They expect to be born and run around outside together. If you keep them cooped up in a house all day long, it's like putting Tarzan in a tuxedo and making him live in a studio apartment.
We need to understand that they get primitive when they get upset, and that requires us to change the way we speak to them.
How should "prehistoric parents" interact with their cavemen?
The more upset they get, the more calm we get, and that's the opposite of what we should be doing. It makes the child think we don't understand them.
We naturally reflect a little bit of the person's emotion when we speak to them with our tone of voice. But, when people get upset, there's an emotional disconnect that we're taught.
Rather than acknowledging some of their feelings, we immediately try to make them not have those upset feelings. But what feels best to the child is to reflect some of those upset feelings.
Parents have been taught the opposite, and it makes the child feel misunderstood, so often they'll cry even louder and harder.
Why do you think your philosophy is so different from many of the infant and toddler care books out there?
Until "The Happiest Baby on the Block" came out, people were confused because most books will tell you that we don't know why young babies cry.
This book has revolutionized the way we understand babies and is being endorsed and recognized by many health-care professionals. We now have about 1,600 educators teaching this around the world and another 1,200 in training.
Do you have any ideas on how to have the happiest teenager on the block?
In a lot of ways, they're like toddlers - they want a lot more authority than they're prepared to handle, and they've got a lot of immaturity. A lot of the communication techniques that work with toddlers work with them as well.
What hasn't been acknowledged is how important the nonverbal part of communication is. The way you acknowledge someone's feelings is actually more important than what you say.
Even with the right words, if it's done in a very flat, psychiatrist voice, it makes you want to be more distant and find someone who does understand you.