Friday, February 21, 2014

Book Review: How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk

by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

This is one of the first "parenting books" I ever read. When First Son was two months old, we visited his aunt and uncle whose two children were friendly, respectful, and wonderfully helpful. She gave me her well-worn copy of this book and said it was the book that most shaped their parenting philosophy. I read it immediately. My son was too young for any of the skills, but I put them to use at work and received surprising results. It was unbelievable. I even had managers pulling me aside to tell me they were impressed with how I had stated or addressed a problem.

A few years ago, I picked up a revised copy of the book (the original one I received having fallen to pieces) and finally got around to reviewing it. This book is full of great advice for talking with anyone, teaching your children problem-solving, and generally helping them figure out who they are and how they can interact with others to develop fulfilling relationships.
We have to stop thinking of the child as a "problem" that needs correction. We have to give up the idea that because we're adults we always have the right answer.
Later in the same chapter, the authors say:
We are teaching our children that they needn't be our victims or our enemies. We are giving them the tools that will enable them to be active participants in solving the problems that confront them--now, while they're at home, and in the difficult, complex world that awaits them.
There's a helpful chapter on praise. Of course, "praise" is a loaded term, but the suggestions in this chapter are, I think, quite useful. The authors recommend giving children descriptive words to identify themselves. For example, I might say something like, "I see you've gathered all of the things we need to take with us this afternoon. That's being helpful." I've described what I've seen and then summarized it with a word my child can apply to himself or herself, not because I've said that's what they are, but because it is what they have already done.
A child finds out that he can take a confusing mess of a room and turn it into a neat orderly room; that he can make a gift that's useful and gives pleasure; taht he can hold the attention of an audience, that he can write a poem that's moving; that he is capable of being punctual, of exercising will power, of showing initiative, resourcefulness. All of that goes into his emotional bank and it can't be taken away. You can take away "good boy" by calling him "bad boy" the next day. But you can't ever take away from him the time he cheered his mother with a get-well card, or the time he stuck with his work and persevered even though he was very tired.
These moments, when his best was affirmed, become life-long touchstones to which a child can return in times of doubt or discouragement. In the past he did something he was proud of. He has it within him to do it again. 
My copy has a 2004 copyright. The text itself is still the original 1980 text, but there are a few sections added to the end, mainly addressing a few common questions and sharing success stories from parents and teachers around the world. There isn't even a website in my copy, though you can find the authors online here. I have not read any of their other books, but I highly recommend this one. I have already found my recent review helpful in maintaining my calm and problem-solving with my children.


  1. I was just scanning through old posts looking for your Unconditional Parenting reviews (to share with a friend who is reading it) and saw this. This is a great book! I did read another book by the same authors though, I believe it was on sibling relationships, and it was HORRIBLE fwiw.

    1. I'm kind of glad to hear you say that. I have picked that book up a few times and skimmed a little and put it down again. It just didn't seem nearly as beneficial to me.


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