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

“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish offers a revolutionary approach to parent-child communication

The book rejects traditional methods like punishment and lecturing, instead focusing on fostering cooperation and understanding. It teaches parents how to actively listen to their children, acknowledge their feelings, and use respectful language. This empowers children to problem-solve, take responsibility, and build strong, positive relationships with their parents.

Summary

The authors argue that typical methods like punishment, rewards, and blame create resentment and damage the parent-child relationship. Instead, they champion a skills-based approach that emphasizes empathy, respect, and collaboration, transforming conflict into an opportunity for growth.

Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings

The book begins by tackling the mix of emotions children experience. Instead of dismissing or minimizing a child’s feelings, parents are encouraged to actively listen and acknowledge them. 

Techniques that help include:

  • Acknowledging Feelings with a Word: Using simple words like “Oh”, “Mmm”, or “I see” shows understanding without overcomplicating the situation.
  • Giving Feelings a Name: Labeling emotions like “mad”, “frustrated”, or “disappointed” helps children identify and manage them.
  • Giving Wishes in Fantasy: Fulfilling impossible wishes playfully (“I wish we could have ice cream for dinner!”) can defuse tantrums and acknowledge desires.

Engaging Cooperation

Instead of forcing compliance, the book teaches parents how to gain children’s cooperation:

  • Describe What You See or Describe the Problem: Focus on the situation, not the child’s character (“Your toys are all over the floor” vs. “You’re so messy”).
  • Give Information: Offer relevant facts (“Socks go in the drawer”) instead of orders.
  • Say It With a Word: A single word like “Shoes!” can be a powerful reminder.
  • Talk About Your Feelings: Expressing your own emotions honestly helps children understand the impact of their actions.
  • Write a Note: Humorous, playful notes can be surprisingly effective in getting a point across.

Alternatives to Punishment

The authors strongly discourage punishment, arguing it creates resentment and teaches children to avoid getting caught rather than developing internal responsibility. 

They offer solutions like:

  • Express Strong Disapproval without Attacking Character: Focus on the action, not the child (“I’m very upset that the wall is colored on.”)
  • State Your Expectations: Clearly outline what you expect.
  • Show the Child How to Make Amends: Guide the child towards fixing the situation themselves.
  • Offer a Choice: Limited choices give children a sense of control.
  • Let the Child Experience the Consequences: Sometimes, natural consequences are the best teacher.
  • Problem-Solving: Work together to brainstorm solutions that address everyone’s concerns.

Helping Children Become Independent

True independence comes when children have the tools to manage challenges on their own. 

The book offers strategies to nurture this development:

  • Let Children Make Choices: Start with small choices and gradually offer more.
  • Show Respect for a Child’s Struggle: Don’t rush in to solve problems for them; let them try first.
  • Don’t Ask Too Many Questions: Questions can feel like interrogation, hindering open communication.
  • Don’t Rush to Answer Questions: Encourage children to think for themselves first.
  • Encourage the Use of Outside Resources: Guide children towards finding answers independently.

Additionally, the book encourages descriptive praise that focuses on the child’s efforts and accomplishments (“You worked hard to build that tower!”) rather than evaluative praise that can create pressure and dependence on external validation.

Finally, there is a section on children being labeled as something.  Note that children can feel trapped by labels. 

Techniques to help them break free include showing them a different view of themselves, having them overhear positive comments about them, and reminding them of their strengths.

Key Lessons

Acknowledge Children’s Feelings to Help Them Cope

  • Why it’s important: Often, when children are upset, parents rush to fix the problem, offer solutions, or minimize their emotions. This inadvertently invalidates the child’s experience Children need to have their feelings heard and acknowledged to process them effectively and move on.
  • How to apply it:
    • Listen attentively: Put aside distractions and give your child full attention.
    • Use simple acknowledgments: “Oh,” “Mmm,” or “I see” demonstrates that you’re listening.
    • Name their emotion: “You seem really frustrated that your tower fell down.”
    • Fulfill wishes in fantasy: “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could build a tower that reached the sky?”

Example: Your child is crying because they lost their favorite toy. Instead of saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll find it” or “It’s just a toy,” try saying, “That was your special toy. It makes sense that you’re so sad.”

Use Alternatives to Punishment to Promote Responsibility

  • Why it’s important: Punishment often breeds resentment and teaches children to focus on avoiding getting caught rather than taking responsibility for their actions. Focusing on solutions and consequences fosters cooperation and internal discipline.
  • How to apply it:
    • Express your own feelings: “I’m disappointed that there are crayons on the wall.”
    • State expectations: “Crayons are for paper.”
    • Show them how to make amends: “Let’s get a cloth and clean this up together.”
    • Offer choices: “Would you like to wash the wall or help me pick a new picture to hang over it?”
    • Problem-solve: “How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again? Should we have a special place for drawing on the walls?”

Example: Your child breaks a rule they know about. Instead of yelling or grounding them, try saying, “I’m upset you chose to [action] when you know the rule is [rule]. Let’s work together to figure out a way to fix this.”

Descriptive Praise Nurtures Self-Esteem

  • Why it’s important: Generic praise like “Good job!” or “You’re so smart!” can make children dependent on external approval and less likely to take risks. Focusing on effort and specific accomplishments fosters growth.
  • How to apply it:
    • Describe what you see: “You worked really hard on that drawing!”
    • Describe what you feel: “I’m so proud of how much effort you put in.”
    • Sum it up with a single word: “Wow!” or “Amazing!”

Example: Your child finishes a difficult puzzle. Instead of saying, “You’re so good at puzzles!”, try, “You kept trying even when it was tough. Look at that finished puzzle!”

Engage Cooperation Through Choices and Shared Problem-Solving

  • Why it’s important: Demanding obedience stifles a child’s sense of control and hinders cooperation. Offering acceptable options and involving children in finding solutions empowers them and makes them more invested in the outcome.
  • How to apply it:
    • Offer limited choices: “Would you like to wear your red shirt or your blue shirt?”
    • Describe the problem: “Your toys are scattered on the floor, and it’s hard to walk.”
    • Invite participation: “Let’s brainstorm some ideas to keep the floor clear.”
    • Write notes: A playful note on the bathroom mirror saying “Flush!” can be a fun reminder.

Example: Your child is refusing to get ready for bed. Instead of nagging, try saying, “It’s bedtime. Would you like to brush your teeth first or pick out your pajamas first? After that, we can read one story together.”

Final Thoughts

“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” isn’t about being a perfect parent, but about building a respectful, fulfilling relationship. This classic book offers a toolbox of transformative techniques, allowing parents and children to navigate challenging situations with understanding and compassion.

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