Book Review: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber

I think How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber should be on every parents book list to read.  It is a very simple and relatively short book, but it is so incredibly helpful.

It didn’t offer up any thing startlingly new for me, but it reinforced the importance of thinking before I speak and highlighted areas I need to work on.

The book has a series of exercises for you to write down answers to as you work your way through the book.  I admit to not writing them down, but I did start using the strategies straight away to great effect.  Here are three that I have been working on:

Helping children deal with their feelings

If you only had time to read one chapter in this book, I would recommend reading this one.  The advice is so simple but has had a significant impact on the harmony in our house.

Key learning:

  1. Listen with full attention.

  2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word-“Oh”…”Mmm”…”I see.”

  3. Give their feelings a name.

  4. Give them their wishes in fantasy

How hard can listening be really?  In the busyness of the evening rush and other times I have been guilty of not listening with my full attention.  For example, when cooking dinner there have been times when I haven’t even turned around to respond to a complaining child, but simply told them to stop whinging.  The funny thing about my behaviour in these instances, is I do it as a short cut.  I want them to stop and I want them to do it quickly and with the least amount of my time being impacted.

Inevitably my response doesn’t suffice and I end up spending more time trying to sort out the issue. Or even worse the afflicted child then creates more angst with other members of the family and I have an even bigger problem than what I started with!

Key action: Changing my initial response has had huge wins.  Here are a couple of recent examples:

Four year old comes to me as I am cooking dinner, a slight cry and complaining that he hurt himself  (running like a maniac around the house!). Instead of saying to him you shouldn’t have been running like that and not acknowledging how he is feeling, I went with bending down to be at his height, asking him where it hurts, then asking him if he would like me to give it a rub as it seems like it is hurting him. He said yes, I rubbed his leg for about 3.5 seconds and he was then happy and went on his way!

Nine year old comes to complain that her older brothers are annoying her in her room and touching her things.  Instead of heading off to her room to reprimand her brothers, I spent time talking to her about how she was feeling, along the lines of this –  I said its sounds like you are frustrated with the boys invading your space. She said this was the case and that she didn’t mind them being there if they didn’t touch her things.  I said I understood that as they are too rough sometimes. She agreed and noted she was worried about them breaking something.  We talked about how special this item was to her and then she said she was going to move it to a different spot, so they wouldn’t be able to find it, then went back to her room.

Win for me in that she solved the problem herself and I avoided becoming referee in a he said / she said scenario.

Alternatives to punishment

Key learning:  A child should experience the consequences of his misbehaviour, but not punishment.  I have always tried to avoid punishing the kids, preferring for the consequences of their behaviour to be enough, along with me  expressing my disapproval and explaining clearly what my expectations are.  I have found this much harder though now with the older kids, particularly with the teenager and withdrawal of technology privileges has been common in our house.  If I am honest with myself, doing this is sometimes just a short cut to deal with the issue. I really need to start being more assertive, less punitive.

Key action: Tonight I discovered that while the 14 year old was on the computer for study, he had spend considerable time on non study websites.  Instead of withdrawing his technology privileges for the evening and doing so in a heated and frustrated way, I spoke with him calmly expressed my disappointment, restated my expectations and highlighted the choices he has so close to his exams.  He acknowledged he made poor choices, but feels that our rules are too restrictive.  We have agreed to address them again after exams and he will commit to sticking with them until then.

This will be the hardest learning for me to stick with.  I feel we have been over this issue so many times – he will be stick to our agreements for a while and then he breaks it.  I don’t think withdrawal of privileges is working either though, so am going to try and stick with the less punitive approach for a while and see what success we have.

Free the kids from playing roles

Key learning:  To often I hear myself saying things like “If I could just take half the worry out of our second child and share to our first, they could balance each other out.”  Each time I say something like this I am casting the boys in roles of one being carefree and the other of being a worrier.  I need to allow them opportunities to see themselves differently and reinforce and encourage behaviour that goes against the roles I previously cast them in.

Key action:  I am not going to repeat statements like the above for any of the kids.  Logically I know placing a label or a role on anyone is not helpful and I used to be very conscious of not doing it.  Years down the parenting track has seen me forget about this, so I need to start being more conscious about the things I say about the kids when they are around.

For my second son, recently when I could see he was becoming anxious about a particular situation (he was worried about a homework task), instead of telling him to stop worrying or deconstructing his worries, I reminded him of another assignment he had undertaken recently and the approach we worked out for him to tackle it.  I then asked him if he thought this approach could apply to this one too.  He walked off, not seeming particularly happy with my response, but returned within about 10 minutes and explained that it would work and went on to tell me how he was going to complete the task over the next week.  That night when he came to say goodnight, I remarked how impressed I was with how he handled the homework situation and how I felt it showed growing maturity.  He didn’t say anything, but I could tell it meant a lot to hear this from me.

I will come back to this book over and over to refresh these and other key learning it has to offer.  While some of these strategies seem on the surface to take a little longer, in reality the outcomes are much more efficient and sustainable in the long term.

Have you read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber?  If so what were the key learning you took away from it?