How to Talk So Kids Will Listen

There are a ton of parenting books out there, but one of my favorites (and one I am reading now) has to be How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, the “parenting bible” from Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The book covers so many topics, like how to cope with kids’ negative feelings and how to resolve family conflicts peacefully. The book was written over 30 years ago, but the advice is as relevant as ever. It was also recommended by my psychiatrist (yep, no shame in that) to help me better connect with my kids and allow them to feel validated and respected.

Here are 3 takeaways I have gathered from the book so far:

Practice Cooperation in the Face of Bad Behavior

Deciding on proper punishments is hard and frustrating. Am I being too lenient? Too strict? I have a constant inner monologue on how to deal with my kids behavior and how to appropriately respond to it. The worst thing I can do is to make my child feel bad about him or herself. Their behavior displays an emotion and does not define their character. The key to making strides in minimizing bad behavior is thinking about the long term. For example, don’t accuse. Instead, give information about the problem and why it is a problem. Use descriptions instead of declarations. For a more personal example, we love to color and, try as I might, the temptation to draw on our white walls often wins. Instead of saying something to the effect of “that’s bad”, I try and say “I love how creative you are, but it makes me upset and frustrated when I see you draw on the walls. Crayons are for coloring on paper, not on walls.” It ends up validating everyone’s feelings and helps us find a solution.  

Always Accept and Acknowledge Your Kid’s Feelings

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that children are small packages with complex and strong feelings. To understand their behavior, I first try to uncover the emotion behind it. Emotions, good or bad, are a key part of life, and when we deny children their “bad” emotions, problems can worsen. Validate their anger, frustration, fear, etc. Show them you understand they have feelings, and try not to be judgmental. (To everyone reading, please go watch the movie Inside Out!) I really like this quote from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, “But more important than any words we use is our attitude. If our attitude is not one of compassion, then whatever we say will be experienced by the child as phony or manipulative. It is when our words are infused with our real feelings of empathy that they speak directly to a child’s heart”. I always try to put myself into my kids’ shoes. Even when I don’t understand what is so frustrating about a spear of broccoli, I try to look at the situation from a different perspective.

Encourage Autonomy and Self-Confidence

Another big takeaway from this book is to encourage your kiddos. Kids need affirmation and nonjudgmental support. Try to promote self-confidence as much as you can, but be aware, there is a fine line between “confidence” and “entitlement” (you want the former!). One thing you can do is empower your kids with choices. This doesn’t mean free-reign, but giving choices helps kids do the littlest things for themselves. For example,I try to do this is by picking two outfits and let them choose so they feel involved more independent. Don’t do everything for them! You want to promote self-agency.

Being a parent is no joke, and the struggle is REAL! That’s why I love How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk. This book offers tools that help me communicate with my kids in a loving, calm, and kind voice. It also encourages me to really listen to what my kids are saying through their behavior. In turn, it gave my kids a “safe emotional climate” where they can express themselves and grow and reach for the moon.

Have you read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk? What did you learn from it? Drop a comment below (or feel free to share this article with someone who might love to read it!). 


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  • Lincoln W.

    I’m 16, and I really wish my parents would have read this book when I was a kid. Parents need to be more compassionant and loving, rather than ignorant and judgemental. I really think your doing a great job, and it will pay off in the end Mrs.Gen!

  • Raquel Kenna

    I am 14 years old and I dont have kids yet but you are surely my role model when I decide to be a mom one day!

  • Bridget

    Thanks for sharing! Always looking for good mommy reading material as my little one grows and changes so quickly; sometimes it’s hard to keep up with her, even at 5 months.

  • Melissa

    I love, love, love this book. I have read a ton of books on raising kids and this is definitely my favorite. To me is about listening to and respecting your children as people and giving choices is key. It definitely helped me with my girls.

  • Catherine Varnadoe

    Thanks for this Gen. I will buy this. I find myself getting short tempered and have to step away. It’s something I’m not proud of by any means and am in the process of finding someone to talk with about this. I get very overwhelmed with life at times with my two boys every night alone (my husband works nights and I work full time dayshift). Thanks again for this suggestion.

  • Andie Lawless

    This was a great article. <3 And a great reminder for me to listen more actively to my kids. I'll definitely look into this book.

  • Liz P.

    Love this post! I am the mama to a 16 month old boy and I think it’s never too early to start putting these things into practice. Great advice. Will definitely be checking out the book.

  • Liz Dickey

    I knew raising kids was gonna be hard the moment I knew I was gonna have one. But having an autistic kid is a WHOLE different ballgame. Sadly my son, even at almost 6 years old, is nonverbal and still in diapers. However, there are a lot of good points to this post that I have applied in my parenting style and some I have been thinking about implemeting. My son might not speak, but he does understand language enough to get what me and his father try to tell him. Simple concepts with small two-three word sentences get through to him best. Gen I’m glad you’ve started a parenting blog! I love reading other parents’ take on raising bundles of chaos- I mean, children, *ahem* and I plan on adding this one to my bookmarks 😀

  • Brianna

    I’m not sure how I’ve stumbled on this blog post, but I’m glad I did! As a behavioral therapist, I completely missed the bus on this book. I believe you brought up some wonderful points on child psychology, and developing (and maintaining!) healthy emotional relationships with our children.

    As a fellow working mama, my life can be hectic and frustrating. It’s so easy to forget that my little ones can feel the same way. I’m going to be adding this book to my Amazon cart asap. Thank you for the wonderful post!

    P.S: Magic erasers work miracles on almost every surface. Especially when it’s up against crayon masterpieces. ♡

  • JoAnne

    One of the first parenting books I read was “Nurture Shock”, which lays out how the everyone gets a trophy method of child rearing is essentially setting our kids up for failure. I can’t say I agreed with everything, but it will certainly enable many people to rethink how we engage with our parenting expectations.

    Alphie Kohn’s “Unconditional Parenting” has been a wonderful resource as well.

    For parents struggling to deal with our own baggage, or anyone struggling with distorted thinking, I highly recommend “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Handbook” by Dr. David D. Burns. It’s written for the average American English reading level (which can be frustrating at times in its simplicity), but please do not allow that to deter anyone. It has been an incredibly valuable tool while dealing with life-long depression and anxiety.

  • JoAnne

    Sorry, Alfie Kohn.

  • Betty

    My kids are now 27, 30, and 35, but I still remember how valuable this book was in helping me establish effective communication skills with my toddlers–and the same principles apply to talking to adults in challenging moments as well! The other book that had a huge impact on my childrearing was “Raising your Spirited Child” by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka–the fact that I have a decent relationship with my middle child is due to the world-shifting insights that book gave me.

  • JoAnne

    Also, I’m going onto the library website to reserve your recommendations.

  • Babs

    I would love to thank you for sharing this ! you definitly gave me the envy to read it. And for that i would love to thank you. I’m an au pair, from Europe, and i think this might litteraly help a lot. It’s not easy, because as i’m not taking care of my own kids, i don’t have the same view on them, and mainly, as a french person, i did not been educated as the same way kids are educate here, and it might, sometimes, be a cause of conflic with the host parents. so i think it might really help to understand and to make my method way much better. i will definitely keep an eye on the “parent” category, because i think this might literaly help me to have some tips to learn how to give a good way to educate kids i’m taking care of 🙂 so thank you, from the bottom of the heart!

  • Deby S

    Thank you for the book recommendation!
    My 4 year old girl and 2 year old boy are both very strong-minded and I recently had an epiphany about how I refer to my kids.

    I have changed my words from “my daughter is strong willed, stubborn and emotional” and now I say that she is a leader who stands up for what is right and she has a tender heart for those who are hurting.

    Just changing those little phrases has made a huge difference in my relationship with her!

  • Claire

    As a first time mom, that book has been on my list for a while.

  • Bronwyn

    I really love this article! I don’t have kids of my own, but I work in a daycare with 2-3 year olds and I always feel frustrated when I don’t get the response I want when talking to them. This really helps me to look at it from a different prespective! Rather than telling them they need to stop crying, I can see whats happening through their eyes and evaluate why they’re crying.

  • Kimberly Petersen

    I love this post! Your musings and the book are very insightful. While I do not have my own children yet, I find that these tools work wonders in my classroom. I am a huge fan of letting the child pick from choices to provide them with ownership and a decisive role in their education/life. Thank you for sharing!!!

  • Meg Bonney

    Such great advice!

  • Deanne

    Another great one is Love and Logic. The one for early childhood covers birth through age six. It goes along the lines of the book you are reading and is easy to implement.

  • Sarah Mackay

    I loved that book when my kids were little and it’s counterpart “How to talk to teens will listen and listen so teens will talk.” And I love your blog!

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