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Volume 1, Issue 2

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen

& Listen So Kids Will Talk
Authors: Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Release Date: December 2004
ISBN: 978-0-380-81196-0
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish are internationally
acclaimed, award-winning experts on adult-child
communication. Both lecture nationwide, and their
group workshop programs are used by thousands
of groups throughout the world to improve
communication between children and adults.

A Letter to Readers Chapter 1: Helping Children

The last thing we ever thought wed be doing Deal with Their Feelings
was writing a how to book on communication When Im upset or hurting, the last thing I
skills for parents. The relationship between want to hear is advice, philosophy, psychology,
each parent and child is a very personal and or the other fellows point of view. That kind
private matter. The idea of giving anyone of talk only makes me feel worse than before.
instructions on how to talk in such a close
relationship just didnt feel right to us. But let someone really listen, let someone
acknowledge my inner pain and give me a
The more we talked about it, the more chance to talk more about whats troubling
comfortable we became with the idea. Why me and I begin to feel less upset, less
not a how to book with exercises so that confused, more able to cope with my
parents could teach themselves the skills feelings and my problem.
they wanted to know? Why not a book with
hundreds of examples of helpful dialogues The process is no different for our children.
so that parents could adapt this new They too can help themselves if they have a
language to their own personal style? listening ear and an empathic response. But
the language of empathy does not come
Suddenly our original uneasiness about writing naturally to us. Its not part of our mother
a how to book vanished. Every other area of tongue. Most of us grew up having our
science has its skill books. Why not one for feelings denied. To become fluent in this new
parents who want to learn how to talk so their language of acceptance, we have to learn
kids will listen, and listen so their kids will talk? and practice its methods.

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Here are some ways to help children deal But more important than any words we use
with their feelings. is our attitude. If our attitude is not one of
compassion, then whatever we say will be
1. Instead of half-listening, listen with full
experienced by the child as phony or
attention. It can be discouraging to try to
manipulative. It is when our words are
get through to someone who gives only lip
infused with our real feelings of empathy
service to listening. Its much easier to tell
that they speak directly to a childs heart.
your troubles to a parent who is really
listening. He doesnt even have to say
anything. Often a sympathetic silence is all
a child needs.
2. Instead of questions and advice,
acknowledge with a word Oh ... Children usually object when
Mmm ... I see. Its hard for a child to think their exact words are repeated
clearly or constructively when some-one is back to them.
questioning, blaming, or advising her. There are youngsters who prefer
Theres a lot of help to be had from a not talk at all when theyre
simple Oh ... umm ... or I see. Words upset. For them, Mom or Dads
like these, coupled with a caring attitude, presence is comfort enough.
are invitations to a child to explore her
own thoughts and feelings, and possibly Some children become irritated
come up with her own solutions. when they express an intense
emotion and their parents
3. Instead of denying the feeling, give the response is correct, but cool.
feeling a name. The child who hears the
Its also not helpful when
words for what he is experiencing is
parents respond with more
deeply comforted. Someone has
intensity than the child feels.
acknowledged his inner experience.
(That sounds frustrating!) Children dont appreciate having
the names they call themselves
4. Instead of explanation and logic, give a repeated by their parents.
child his wishes in fantasy. When children
want something they cant have, adults
usually respond with logical explanations
of why they cant have it. Often the harder
we explain, the harder they protest. Its probably obvious to you by now that
Sometimes just having some-one dealing with feelings is an art, not a science.
understand how much you want Yet we have faith (based upon years of
something makes reality easier to bear. observation) that parents, after some trial
(I wish I could make the banana ripe for and error, can master the art. Youll sense
you right now!) after a while what is helpful to your
individual child and what isnt. With
So there you have it four possible ways to practice youll soon discover what irritates
give first aid to a child in distress: by listening and what comforts; what creates distance
with full attention, by acknowledging his and what invites intimacy; what wounds
feelings with a word, by giving a name to his and what heals. There is no substitute for
feelings, by granting him his wishes in fantasy. your own sensitivity.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk 2
Chapter 2: Comparisons Lisa has such beautiful
table manners. Youd never catch her
Engaging Cooperation eating with her fingers.
One of the built-in frustrations of parent-
hood is the daily struggle to get our children Sarcasm Is this the homework youre
to behave in ways that are acceptable to us bringing to school tomorrow? Well maybe
and to society. Part of the problem lies in the your teacher can read Chinese; I cant.
conflict of needs. The adult need is for some
Prophecy Just keep on being selfish.
semblance of cleanliness, order, courtesy,
Youll see, no one is ever going to want to
and routine. The children couldnt care less.
play with you. Youll have no friends.
A lot of parental passion goes into helping
children adjust to societal norms. And
Are there ways to engage our children s
somehow the more intense we become, the
cooperation without doing violence to their
more actively they resist.
self-esteem or leaving them with such a
Some of the methods most commonly used backwash of bad feelings?
by adult to get children to cooperate are:
Wed like to share with you five skills that
Blaming and Accusing Your dirty have been helpful to us and to the parents in
fingerprints are on the door again! Why our workshops. Not every one of them will
do you always do that? work with every child. Not every skill will
suit your personality. And there isnt any one
Name-calling You have to be a slob of them that is effective all the time. What
to keep such a filthy room. You live like these five skills do, however, is create a
an animal. climate of respect in which the spirit of
cooperation can begin to grow.
Threats If you dont spit that gum out
this minute, Im going to open your 1. Describe. Describe what you see, or
mouth and take it out. describe the problem. Its hard to do what
needs to be done when people are telling
Commands I want you to clean up
you whats wrong with you. Its easier to
your room right this minute.
concentrate on the problem when some
Lecturing and Moralizing Do you one just describes it to you. (Theres a wet
think that was a nice thing to do to towel on the bed.)
grab that book from me? I can see you
2. Give information. Information is a lot
dont realize how important good manners
easier to take than accusation. When
are. What you have to understand is that
children are given information, they can
if we expect people to be polite to us, then
usually figure out for themselves what
we must be polite to them in return.
needs to be done. (The towel is getting
Warnings Careful, youll get hit by my blanket wet.)
a car!
3. Say it with a word. Children dislike
Martyrdom Statement What til you hearing lectures, sermons, and long
have children of your own. Then youll explanations. For them, the shorter the
know what aggravation is. reminder, the better. (The towel!)

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk 3
4. Talk about your feelings. Make no Chapter 3:
comment about the childs character or
personality. By describing what we feel, Alternatives to Punishment
we can be genuine without being hurtful. To punish or not to punish?
(I dont like sleeping in a wet bed!)
What could I do instead?
5. Write a note. Sometimes nothing we say
is as effective as a written word. (Please 1. Express your feelings strongly without
put me back so I can dry. Thanks! Your attacking character (Im furious that my
Towel.) new saw was left outside to rust in the rain!)

2. State your expectations. (I expect my tools

to be returned after theyve been borrowed.)
3. Show the child how to make amends.
Describe It is possible to (What this saw needs now is a little steel
use this skill in a way that can
wool and a lot of elbow grease.)
be irritating.
4. Give the child a choice. (You can borrow
Give Information Refrain
my tools and return them, or you can give
from giving the child information
she already knows. up the privilege of using them. You decide.)

The One-Word Statement 5. Take action. (Child: Why is the tool box
Dont use your childs name as locked? Father: You tell me why.)
your one-word statement.
6. Problem-solve. (What can we work out
Describe What you Feel so that you can use my tools when you
Some children are very sensitive need them, and so that Ill be sure theyre
to their parents disapproval. there when I need them?) To problem-solve:
For those children its best just
to state your expectations. Talk about the childs feelings and needs.

Talk about your feelings and needs.

Our purpose is to speak to what is best in Brainstorm together to find a mutually

our children their intelligence, their agreeable solution.
initiative, their sense of responsibility, their
Write down all ideaswithout evaluating.
sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to
the needs of others. We want to put an end Decide which suggestions you like,
to talk that wounds the spirit, and search out which you dont like, and which you
the language that nourishes self-esteem. We plan to follow through on.
want to create an emotional climate that
encourages children to cooperate because We are teaching our children that they
they care about themselves, and because neednt be our victims or our enemies. We
they care about us. We want to demonstrate are giving them the tools that will enable
the kind of respectful communication that them to be active participants in solving the
we hope our children will use with us problems that confront them now, while
now, during their adolescent years, and theyre at home, and in the difficult, complex
ultimately as our adult friends. world that awaits them.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk 4
Chapter 4:
Encouraging Autonomy
Cautions about Problem-Solving
Most of the books on child-rearing tell us
Talk about the childs feelings. that one of our important goals as parents is
Dont rush this part. Let your to help our children separate from us, to help
attitude be Im really trying to them become independent individuals who
get clear on how you feel will one day be able to function on their own
about all this. Only when the
without us. Were urged not to think of our
child feels heard and under-
children as little carbon copies of us or
stood will she be able to
consider your feelings. extensions of ourselves but as unique human
beings with different temperaments different
Talk about your feelings. Keep tastes, different feelings, different desires,
this part short and clear. Its
different dreams.
hard for a child to listen to a
parent who goes on and on Yet, how are we to help them become separate,
about his worry, his anger, or independent persons? By allowing them to
his resentment. do things for themselves, by permitting
Invite the child to work on them to wrestle with their own problems, by
finding a mutually acceptable letting them learn from their own mistakes.
solution. If possible, let the child
come up with the first few ideas. Fortunately the opportunities to encourage
The crucial point here is to refrain our childrens autonomy present themselves
from evaluating or commenting everyday. Here are some specific skills that
on any of those ideas. All ideas can help children to rely on themselves
should be welcomed. rather than upon us.
Decide which ideas you like, 1. Let children make choices. It must be very
which you dont, and which ideas
hard to be an adult who is forced to make
you want to put into action.
decisions about career, lifestyle, mate
Watch out for put-down state-
ments (Thats a dumb idea). without having had a good deal of
Instead describe your personal experience in exercising your own
reactions: I wouldnt be judgment. (Are you in the mood for your
comfortable with that because... grey pants today, or your red pants?)

Follow through. The danger here 2. Show respect for a childs struggle.
is getting so carried away with When a childs struggle is respected, he
your good feelings at having gathers courage to see a job through
come up with a workable solution himself. (A jar can be hard to open.
that you dont bother to make a Sometimes it helps if you tap the side of
specific plan to follow through. the lid with a spoon.)
Dont permit the child to blame 3. Dont ask too many questions. Too many
or accuse you at any point. Its questions can be experienced as an invasion
important that the parent be firm of ones private life. Children will talk about
when this happens. what they want to talk about when they
want to talk about it. (Glad so see you.
Welcome home.)

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk 5
4. Dont rush to answer questions. When But theres something even larger that
children ask questions, they deserve the interferes with our rational desire to help
chance to explore the answer for our children separate from us. I remember
themselves first. (Thats an interesting so well the deep satisfaction that came
question. What do you think?) from being so totally needed by three
small human beings.
5. Encourage children to use sources
outside the home. We want our children Its a bittersweet road we parents travel. We
to know that theyre not completely start with total commitment to a small,
dependent upon us. The world outside helpless human being. Over the years we
the home the pet shop, the dentist, the worry, plan, comfort, and try to understand.
school, an older child can all be called We give our love, our labor, our knowledge
upon to help them with their problems. and our experienceso that one day he or
(Maybe the pet shop owner would have she will have the inner strength and
a suggestion.) confidence to leave us.

6. Dont take away hope. By trying to Chapter 5: Praise

protect children from disappointment,
Granted, there are children who manage to
we protect them from hoping, striving,
brush off the belittling they get at home and
dreaming, and sometimes from achieving
still rise to the challenges of the outside
their dreams. (So youre thinking of
world. And granted, there are some children
trying out for the play! That should be
who are treated with regard at home who
an experience.)
still doubt their own abilities and shrink
The fact is, this whole business of encouraging from challenge. However, it would seem
autonomy can be quite complicated. As logical that those children who grow up in
much as we understand the importance of families where their best is appreciated would
our children being independent, there are be more likely to feel good about themselves,
forces within us that work against it. more likely to cope with the challenges of
life, and more likely to set higher goals for
First, theres the matter of sheer themselves than those who dont.
convenience. Most of us today are busy
and in a hurry. We usually wake the If a childs self-esteem is so important, then
children ourselves, button their buttons, what can we as parents do to enhance it?
tell them what to eat and what to wear, Certainly all the principles and skills weve
because it seems so much easier and talked about so far can help a child see
faster to do it for them. himself as a person of worth. Each time we
show respect for his feelings, each time we
Then we have to cope with our strong offer him a chance to make a choice, or give
feelings of connectedness to our children. him a chance to solve a problem, he grows in
We have to fight against seeing their confidence and self-esteem.
failures as our failures.
Surely praising them would seem to be
It also takes great restraint and self- another part of the answer. But praise can
discipline on our part not to move in with be tricky business. Sometimes the most
advice, particularly when were sure we well-meant praise brings about
have the answer. unexpected reactions.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk 6
Youve probably discovered for yourself Let us realize that along with food, shelter,
some of the built-in problems of praise. and clothing, we have another obligation to
Along with some good feelings can come our children, and that is to affirm their
other reactions: rightness. The whole world will tell them
whats wrong with them loud and often.
Praise can make you doubt the praiser. (If Our job is to let our children know whats
she thinks Im a good cook, shes either right about them.
lying or knows nothing about good food.)

Praise can lead to immediate denial.

(Always beautifully dressed! ... You
should have seen me an hour ago.)
Make sure your praise is
Praise can be threatening. (But how will
appropriate to your childs age
I look at the next meeting?) and level of ability.
Praise can force you to focus on your weak- Avoid the kind of praise that
nesses. (Brilliant mind? Are you kidding? hints at past weaknesses or
I still cant add a column of figures.) past failures.

Praise can create anxiety and interfere with Be aware that excessive
activity. (Ill never be able to hit the ball enthusiasm can interfere with
like that again. Now Im really uptight.) a childs desire to accomplish
for herself.
Praise can also be experienced as
manipulation. (What does this person Be prepared for a lot of
want from me?) repetition of the same activity
when you describe what a
Instead of evaluating, describe. child is doing appreciatively.

1. Describe what you see. (I see a clean

floor, a smooth bed, and books neatly
lined up on the shelf.)
Chapter 6: Freeing Children
2. Describe what you feel. (Its a pleasure to from Playing Roles
walk into this room!)
Sometimes it takes no more than a few
3. Sum up the childs praiseworthy words, a look, or a tone of voice to tell you
behavior with a word. (You sorted out that youre either slow or stupid, a pest,
your pencils, crayons and pens, and put or a basically likable and capable person.
them in separate boxes. Thats what I How your parents think of you can often be
call organization!) communicated in seconds. When you multiply
those seconds by the hours of daily contact
Most of us are quick to criticize and slow to between parents and children, you begin to
praise. We have a responsibility as parents to realize how powerfully young people can be
reverse this order. Our childrens self-esteem influenced by the way their parents view
is too valuable to be left to chance or them. Not only are their feelings about
entrusted to strangers. themselves affected, but so is their behavior.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk 7
When a child persistently behaves in any Chapter 7: Putting It
one way over a period of time, it requires
great restraint on our part not to reinforce All Together
the negative behavior by shouting, There The real-life dramas that children engage us
you go again! It takes an act of will to in every day dont give us time for rehearsal
put aside the time to deliberately plan a or careful thought. However, with your new
campaign that will free a child from the guidelines, though we may do and say things
role hes been playing. we regret, we have a very clear direction to
which we can return. There are basic
To free children from playing roles: principles we can depend upon. We know
that we cant go too far wrong if we take
1. Look for opportunities to show the child a
time to listen to our childrens feelings; or
new picture of himself or herself. (Youve
talk about our own feelings; or work in terms
had that toy since you were three and it
of future solutions, rather than past blame.
almost looks like new!)
One final though: Lets not cast ourselves in
2. Put children in situations where they can
roles either good parent, bad parent,
see themselves differently. (Sara, would
permissive parent, authoritarian parent.
you take the screwdriver and tighten the
Lets start thinking of ourselves as human
pulls on these drawers?)
beings first, with great potential for growth
3. Let children overhear you say some-thing and change. The process of living or
positive about them. (He held his arm working with children is demanding and
steady even though the shot hurt.) exhausting. It requires heart, intelligence,
and stamina. When we dont live up to our
4. Model the behavior youd like to see. (Its own expectations and we wont always
hard to lose, but Ill try to be a sport about lets be as kind to ourselves as we are to
it. Congratulations!) our youngsters. If our children deserve a
thousand chances, and then one more, lets
5. Be a storehouse for your childs special
give ourselves a thousand chances and
moments. (I remember the time you...)
then two more.
6. When your child acts according to the old
label, state your feelings and/or your
expectations. (I dont like that. Despite If you liked this summary,
your strong feelings, I expect click here to buy the book.
sportsmanship from you.)

From the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber
and Elaine Mazlish. Copyright 2004. Summarized by permission of the publisher,
HarperCollins Publishers. Number of pages: 304, Price: $15.95. ISBN: 978-0-380-81196-0.

Summary Copyright 2009 by FamilyIntel, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this book
summary may be reproduced or transmitted in any manner without written permission
from FamilyIntel,, except in the case of registered FamilyIntel users
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