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How to Talk So Kids Will Listen

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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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53 Comments

  • Ashley Shahan

    I needed to read this today! As a mom to a 4 and a half year old & a 6 month old, I feel we are constantly butting heads. I’m never sure of how to get the end result that will ensure we are both happy. I find we both get frustrated and my words come out harsher than intended. Sometimes my daily mantra is, “She’s only 4, she’s little. Speak kind.” Over and over and over… I’ll be looking in to purchasing this book for sure!

  • Fif

    It’s amazing how much thought you put into parenting! I know a lot of people who just have kids because “that’s what you do after you get married” but having kids is a huge responsibility. Everything a parent teaches them or (maybe even more importantly) doesn’t teach them makes them the person they grow up to be one day. Every decision a parent makes is important and the way you handle conflicts and the way you dicipline your children is wonderful and very smart and I’m sure that you will harvest the kindess and compassion you plant in them. I’m not a native English speaker but I hope what I said makes sense. I’m way too young to have kids right now but I will remember what you talked about in this article when it’s time. I hope you have a great day! <3

  • Kelly

    Thanks for the book recommendation!

    Another great book to check out is is: The Love Languages of Children. The authors have an entire series that includes teens, adult children, and even spouses. This was a great series that helped me understand that everyone feels love in different ways. For example, my oldest son’s love language was acts of service; my middle son’s was words and my daughter’s was affection and quality time. It helps you identify what each child’s love language was and how best to show them so they feEl heard, valued and loved.

  • 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!

  • Maverick

    My parents have always been people who have a fine line between right and wrong. I was never a child who drew on the walls (tbh I sat in my room and read… even though I was to young to be able to… lol). But I did have odd flaws that they immediately corrected, and sometimes not in the best of ways. One time, when I was 5, I was playing outside when my mother called me in for dinner. On my way in I had managed to not just find a spider, but trap it and carry it in with me, which I proceeded to put into my older siter’s spaghetti. They had yelled at me, told me that was mean, and sat me in a corner until bed time. And now, 10 years later, I am TERRIFIED of spiders. It’s to the point where it’s so bad I have found myself multiple times crying in the school bathroom because I saw a spider in the classroom. Same thing goes for my self confidence. I was told over and over growing up by my parents and my mom’s side of the family that I was overweight, and if I would just let them sign me up for softball that I wouldn’t be and I would be the prettiest girl in school. This is absolutely no way to talk to a child. Especially as they grow into a teenager. It’s blatantly wrong. But lucky for me, I found safe places in books, art, music, and ballet (now pointe, thank God, it was about time my teacher gave me permission) that gave me the courage to tell my family that I would not allow them to sign me up for things that I found zero enjoyment in doing.

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  • Caitlin M

    Just wanted to say I couldn’t help but grin when you recommended watching Inside Out. I am 19 years old and it is my favorite movie. It is so well made and teaches so many important lessons. It may be popular, but I do think it is underrated for its importance. Anyway, love that movie and this advice!

  • Sara

    This book seems like it will be really helpful at work. I work in early childhood education with 2-5 year olds and much as I try to be as compassionate and understanding as possible, it can still be a struggle. I’ll definitely look into getting this book and share it with my colleagues.

  • Sindy

    I love this Blog-post. I didn’t have kids on my own yet but thanks to a huge family I always have kids around me. Especially the part about acknowledging your kids feelings is often missing in the families around me and that really hurts me. You can’t take your childrens fears by pretending they are overreacting. Thanks for recommending these books. I hope they will help me making things better, when I have kids on my own.

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  • Brianna

    I’m only 14 but me and my mom had got into a fight, mostly because she couldn’t understand my feelings. We forgave each other. I hope that in the future that this doesn’t happen to you and your daughter and sons, but I believe that reading that book and using the advice will pay off in the long run.

  • Tracy Parrish

    thank you for this article. I have been struggling with my daughter and instantly went out and bought this book. Such a big help and I have already seen changes in not just her but myself as well.

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  • Ginger Roll

    I have taught parenting classes using this book…my kids are all in their 30’s, but I used this book when they were young. I STILL use the concepts in lots of different situations, with kids AND adults, and I recommend it all the time! It is amazing the things we carry through generation after generation until we see a different way. Thank you SO much for highlighting this book and sharing your thoughts! #YANA

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  • Wendy B Freels

    Whether they’re six and eight like other moms’ kids, or 26 and 28 (like mine) , it can be hard work getting them to talk. Even the older ones struggle to be understood or to understand. I’ve learned over the years to bite my tongue, sometimes literally, to prevent those mom-isms from escaping at the wrong time. Thankfully my boys are well-adjudged adults and we have grown into having adult conversations, but there are still times when getting information or thoughts from them is like pulling teeth. The concepts above hold true no ,after what the age of the child/parent relationship. But I treasure that as a mom.

  • Angela Fore

    My favorite qoute to use with my grandgirls is “you can be mad, but you cannot be mean or cruel to anyone because you are mad. Consider your words before letting them fly because you can never unsay them.” However, as i am sure you will or have withessed in JJ and Daneel can testify to, girls are whole other creatures from boys. They might be happy one minute, mad as hell the next, then little bursts of sunshine the next. That is why they say it is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. And when this happens DON’T LAUGH! It only makes them madder. Have a blast! I have 2 daughters and 2 granddaughters. There is never a dull moment in our lives.

  • Melanie

    I love this book. It is so important that our kids feel great about them self. I also love books of Isabelle Filliozat (I don’t know if they also are in English), they really help me in parenting. I have three daughters (7, 5,and 3 years old), I love so much being their mum ! I am glad to see that you are breastfeeding, wearing your baby and using clothes diapers (I saw one in one of your photos), as well as parenting in a positive way. I hope that by reading your blog, a lot of parents and future parents will do the same !

  • Melissa

    That book was helpful to me as well when my kids were small. Probably the most useful thing I ever read about parenting (and I wish I could remember where I read it) is: All behavior is communication. The trick is to find out what kids are trying to communicate when they’re acting out. They’re not being manipulative, they just don’t have the words for what they’re feeling yet. As parents we have to teach them to name what they’re feeling, and find positive ways to express that. Parenting: not for the faint-hearted. You seem to be doing a beautiful job.

  • Wendy

    I am a mother of a 2 year old and I struggle with the same battles. I’ve been looking for help on how to talk to my son and how I can better understand him. Yes he is 2, some people have told me he doesn’t really know what I say but the times that I can actually communicate with him he understands me. I just need a bit more help. Thank you for this post and the book recommendation.

    Also, thank you for briefly but purposefully adding in that you have a psychiatrist. We all have battles and I also see someone and the fact that more people talk about this and it’s more public is amazing. I struggled to seek help because my parents are old school and it was for “insane” people but my husband helped me so much. I still fight the stigma with certain people but overall I try to talk about it more so others see that it’s ok to seek help. Thank you, again.

  • Antoinette

    I never read any books about parenting, I guess I learned from my own home how I did not want to raise my kids, at my home it was always dads way or the highway, he was always right, so instead I turned that around, I gave them choices, I listen to them, I don’t say “because I said so” or “what do you know” I encouraged them from very little to be their own individual and believe in themselves, I told them I was not their friend but their mom in the first place so sometimes it is my duty to say no to things, we compromise. Never had to give my children a curfew, we gave them a lot of trust and it all payed off, my kids are now 20-19 and 17, they are independent and loving human beings, my daughter just said to us we had done a great job parenting, so that is our reward! and for what I read in your blog, it feels we raised them just like that 🙂

  • Melissa Russell

    Thank you for the recommendation. Not only am I a mom of two, I also teach high school English. I’m currently reading “Mother and Son: The Respect Effect” and it has changed my relationship with my 4 year old son and given me great insight into the teenage boys I teach. I will be looking into this book also. Thanks!

  • Dawn

    I have 1- read this book, 2- re-read this book, 3- given it as baby shower gifts for over 15 years, and 4- keep 3copies on the shelf in my toddler classroom! One of the best practical “advice” books out there, and very reader-friendly . My favorite reason for recommending it is that it applies as soon as children can communicate and continues to apply through the teen years with minimal language adjustments for each age &stage. Thank you for spreading the word about this great resource!!

  • Stephanie

    I really enjoyed hearing how it’s not just one mom struggling with this matter! I have four kids and one of those four kids is a red head! Which means strong willed very hot headed and it’s great to not take away his choices and still let him have a voice! If he fights with his brother, I give him a choice, you can apologize and mean it or you can go to your room without iPad time for the rest of the day! Whichever choice he chooses he has to stick with it! More than likely he always chooses the right choice and I get to say wow that’s a great choice and I can see how mature u are for picking the right choice! It’s been a big struggle with him because sowmtines as moms we don’t always keep it cool and try to give them a choice, we just want to take away! I love reading your blog and I can’t wait for the next one! Thanks so much for sharing your struggles with us! 😉

  • Natalia

    My number one bible at the moment is Taking back childhood, by Nancy Carlsson-Page. I started reading it out of curiosity (the author is Matt Damon’s mum) but I love every page. It was also written a while back, but it’s still surprisingly relevant, and I find it really very helpful (for example for dealing with how to avoid consumerism in children). It’s really fantastic.

  • Natalia

    PS: I also absolutely adored Buddhism for mothers (by Sarah Napthali). It’s not really a book about Buddhism, but it helped me a lot on how to deal with my own feelings – the worry, the separation anxiety (yes, mine), the occassional anger. Another jewel, in this case for my own self-management and not my daughter’s 🙂

  • Vanessa

    Gen, I would love to see you make a blog post about your favorite books!

  • Susana

    I don’t have kids yet but this sounds like a great book to read for when I do. And I’ll be recommending it to my friends too. Thanks!

  • Pernille

    Thank you for recommending that amazing book. 🙂 However, since my son is 13 I chose to read “How to talk so teens will listen..” cause that sure is hard sometimes! His dad and I are divorced, and I find myself missing him more and more, when he is with his dad every other week, therefore it is so important for me to make sure I’m there and ready if and when he wants to talk with me. 🙂

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