How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

book coverHow to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This is a classic parenting title. The 20 year edition, which I read, is now nearly 10 years old. Many of the ideas are familiar to me from newer gentle parenting books, but this is still a good summary. Especially if you find your parents’ destructive speech creeping into your own speech with your children, this is a very good introduction to dealing respectfully with children. It includes cartoons and summary pages to easily grasp main ideas, role-playing exercises and similar situations for adults to test how you’d react, as well as examples and questions from real parents at the end of each chapter.

Helping kids with Feelings – It’s easy to tell kids their owies aren’t that bad, or that their teachers don’t really hate them. Don’t. Accept their feelings and help them name them. Except for the “wish along with” idea, this chapter, mostly about respecting your kids’ feelings and helping them know what they are, was full of ideas familiar to me from other books.

Engaging Cooperation – The ways that might come most naturally to get a child to do something (or stop doing something) quite often do little more than frustrate everyone. Some of their ideas include describing the problem, not lecturing, and avoiding comparisons – nobody wants to hear that a sibling can do it better or that they’re too old to be doing something they want to do. Again, the ideas are solid but no longer revolutionary.

Alternatives to Punishment – Here the age of the book shows an interesting fact: it cites studies going back to the 1950s that show that punishment, in the form of spankings, time-outs, or other standards, are counterproductive. More recent books cite more recent studies. The parenting books that I have read that recommend punishment do not cite studies, yet they are still by far the most common type. Indeed, despite fifty years of research on the topic, the very idea that it is possible to raise “good” children without punishment is still heretical in most circles. If you, like most, think that kids need to suffer to stop bad behavior, this chapter is most helpful in exploring what punishment does and more helpful ways to stop problem behavior. In a nutshell, punishment tends to makes people feel sorry for themselves. They tend to plot revenge and ways to avoid getting caught in future rather than figuring out how they can repair the hurt or damage they have caused. Other options include pointing out alternative, helpful behavior, showing the child how to make amends or fix the problem, and giving them acceptable choices. If their choices hurt them, you can also let them suffer the natural consequences. The chapter also includes helpful advice on problem-solving with the child to solve on-going difficulties.

Encouraging Autonomy – independence is highly valued in our culture (they don’t question this.) Children are dependent, though, and continual dependency can cause resentment. So, how to support children while giving them room to be their own person. Also, giving children control when possible makes it easier when you must be in charge. Here are some of the ideas that I found most novel: Children are likely to tell you more about what they did while out if you just tell them you’re glad they’re back rather than asking lots of questions (and note especially that “Did you have fun?” is often seen as pressure to have had fun.) If they have questions, talk through their ideas rather than immediately giving them the answer. If they want something impossible, discuss the dream rather than immediately squashing it – your Godzilla suit should be both water- and fire-proof? We’ll keep that in mind.

Praise – This is another sticky topic. The going popular theory now is that praise is good for kids and the more the better. There’s also a growing submovement fueled by research that says that praise used to increase a behavior actually reduces the target behavior, and that it decreases initiative and self-confidence. What to do? This is, again, a little older (though Alfie Kohn, author of _Punished by Rewards_, is cited in the updated bibliography.) Here, the authors start by describing several adult situations involving praise where it’s clearly not helpful – as in, you have a surprise dinner guest, who praises extravagantly your cooking skills in throwing together some canned ingredients. Their first example of useful praise is, if your child brings you or does something and asks for feedback, that you describe what you see and then let her praise herself. This is what I would call noticing and describing rather than praising, but I have certainly found it much more useful than a bland “Good job!” In other situations, they suggest describing your positive reaction, or describing what you see (again), and then also labeling the positive trait, to give them the vocabulary: You stood up for your friend when everyone else was teasing him. That’s what I call courage (or loyalty.) I’m not entirely sure if their approach would entirely pass the Alfie Kohn test, but it seems like a moderate and well-reasoned approach.

Freeing Children from Playing Roles – One child you view as the manipulative one. The other is the responsible one. If you are not extremely careful, even if you never say anything to your child in so many words, your child can grow up trapped by your expectations. The book includes such helpful ideas as looking for opportunities to show your child to himself in a new way, and remembering for your child when she acted differently from how she sees herself, for example, if she thinks of herself as stupid, when she solved a problem herself.

Putting it All Together – I don’t think this needs a summary.

20 years later – this section (a couple more chapters) includes letters from around the world and their responses to more “yes, but” questions that have come up over the years. They discuss here their reaction specifically to time-outs, which were not popular when they were raising their children (six between them.)

Bibliography – this was updated for the new edition and includes books through 1993.

I am very happy to say that the Faber/Mazlish approach seems to be spreading, so that there are a lot more respectful parenting books on the market today. If you already have favorites among these, you may not need this one. If, however, the whole idea is new to you, this book is quite solid, tried and true and easy to get into.

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About Katy K.

I'm a librarian and book worm who believes that children and adults deserve great books to read.
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One Response to How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

  1. Pingback: 3 Positive Parenting Books | alibrarymama

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