How to Talk So Kids Will Listen provides parents and educators with the knowledge and techniques to communicate with children in a way that reduces frictions and tantrums and improves the children’s behavior.
- When kids have a tantrum, don’t attack them or minimize their feelings but acknowledge them
- Talk and communicate about the rationale behind your rules
- Never give your children negative labels
About the Authors: Elaine Mazlish (1925 – 2017) was an American parents’ educator and author. Adele Faber studied theater and drama before earning her master’s degree in education. She then studied children’s psychology and made a professional career in the field.
“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen” says that blaming your children for your parenting woes is the wrong approach.
Instead, you should focus on improving your communication with them.
With better communication, you can improve their behavior, your relationship with them, and very possibly even improve their future.
Faber and Mazlish propose a model based on listening, sharing your feelings, and respecting your kids.
Here are a few takeaways from “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen”:
Acknowledge Their Feelings
The authors say that many times children don’t listen because parents fail to acknowledge their feelings.
Imagine for example you’re shopping at the mall and your 5 years old begins to complain he is hungry.
You tell him to wait and he gets louder:
I am hungry. I want food now
As the kid raises his voice many parents would raise their voice back telling him to be quiet.
But most kids won’t listen and only get noisier.
The authors say that much of children’s behavior is tied to how they feel, and when we fail to address it he feels ignored and spurned. He cannot understand why he should behave when he is feeling bad and you fail to address his concerns.
Instead, address the underlying cause of his misbehavior:
I can understand you are. It’s been a while since breakfast, eh?
Remember that the same rule of honesty applies to communication with children. Don’t pretend you understand it is tantrum if you don’t.
How to Acknowledge Their Feelings
A mistake many do in communication is to minimize people’s feelings. Telling them it’s nothing, that it’s OK, that they can get it replaced or that they will smile about it tomorrow.
This is bad practice with adults already, and it’s even worse with children.
Instead, you want to take people’s feelings seriously. Pace their own reality. If they cry because a sticker got unstuck don’t tell them it’s nothing, but try something like this:
It’s terrible. One of your favorite sticker ripped. And now your album is not a perfect album. Sure, we can get another sticker on top, but right now it’s broken. I can imagine how upsetting it is. If I would get a scratch on my new car I would very upset as well.
When you can make kids feel understood they won’t have as much a need to keep crying and misbehaving.
But remember: all feelings can be accepted but certain actions must be restricted.
Steps to Acknowledge Kids’ Feelings
- Listen quietly and attentively
- Acknowledge with one-word answers (“uhm..” “I see”)
- Give the feeling a name (“annoying”, “what a shock”)
- Provide his wishes in fantasy-land (“If I had a magic wand I’d make a burger appear”, “I wish I could make the rain stop”)
Explain the WHY
Sometimes children will throw tantrum against your rules.
Imagine your kid is resisting the bedtime rule and wants to stay up for longer.
The first thing you would do is to explain the reason behind the rule:
When you stay up late you will be tired in the morning
Then you can offer more information as to why that’s a bad thing. For example:
When you are tired in the morning you will not have energy for school and you will find it difficult to focus and concentrate
But what do you do when your child refuses to listen?
Don’t Punish but Enlighten and Instruct
The authors say that punishment leads to an escalation of anger.
Your child is also more likely to grow bitterness towards you, making it more unlikely he will listen in the future.
And in some cases, children fail to see the connection between punishment and wrongdoing. When that’s the case, punishment is utterly useless in helping them learn.
My Note: It’s potentially harmful, not just useless
Continuous punishment when the kid fails to see the connection between punishment and wrongdoing can lead to learned helplessness
Here is a better approach the authors recommend with the example of a child coming home late:
- Speak to her child on why she came back late
- If they complain about being grounded, ask why they’d feel mistreated
- Explain the rationale behind the grounding: you are concerned about their safety
- Talk about possible solutions you’d both be happy with
- Come to an agreement
- If they fail to follow up with the options you agreed, take necessary precautionary steps
Let Them Make Their Own Mistakes
It’s uncomfortable seeing our children doing mistakes and struggling when we feel we know better or we could help them quickly.
Yet it’s often best to let them find their own answers and solutions.
The authors say that you shouldn’t always intervene when you see them struggling to tie their own shoelaces.
In extreme cases of children wholly dependent on you, they will grow a feeling of helplessness and worthlessness. The children of overbearing parents feel infantilized and violated. Like they are not allowed to be themselves.
Here are a few ideas the authors propose:
- Let them make their own choices whenever the consequences are not dire
- They can learn to coordinate their free time and homework duties as long as they do them
- Encourage to seek advice outside home, from their teachers or spiritual leaders
- Make peace with his struggles: struggles is how people grow
How to Praise Effectively
The authors offer a few pointers on how to give effective praise:
- Don’t say they did great, say you really liked what they did
- Praise selectively and when well earned: too many praises will lose their values
- Don’t hint at past weaknesses
- Never use negative labels
The danger with negative labels is that the children will start believing in them and they will never manage to shake them off.
Labels can also become self-fulfilling prophecies when children start believing in them. Wouldn’t it be a pity if your child started living up your label of “lazy”, “slow learner” or, worst parenting of all, adjectives such as “stupid”?
I particularly liked this summary on Youtube:
Make People Feel Understood
Don’t tell people “it’s OK”, but let them express their feelings. Help them express their feelings and if you truly understand what they’re going through vibe with them and/or offer your own similar story.
More on communication:
- Crucial Conversation
- Difficult Conversation
- Nonviolent Communication
- Four communication mistakes men make with women
- Effective group communication
Some Examples Are “Easy-Level”
Some of the examples depict rather well-behaved children that immediately improve their behavior.
I like to see realistic scenarios and harsher scenarios: when you can deal with the worst, you will walk on the easy.
Solid Principles That Work
Overall, the ideas and psychology behind “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen” are solid and effective.
My communication with children has been rather limited, so take my opinion with a big pinch of salt.
Overall, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen” seemed a good book from my point of view.
At times I wished it would make the case for stronger leadership. My opinion is that you are the parent, and that role comes with duties, difficulties, and heavy responsibilities.
Those responsibilities require that sometimes it’s your way even if kids don’t approve. And that doesn’t have to be necessarily disrespectful.
However, overall, this is a great resource for parents, soon to be parents and anyone who wants or needs to communicate effectively with children.