How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen - Critical summary review - Julie King

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How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen - critical summary review

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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 150113163X

Publisher: Scribner

Critical summary review

Modeled after the widely acclaimed “parenting bible” of the 1980s, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish – and imagined as a sort of a sequel – “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” is co-written by Joanna Faber – Adele’s daughter – and Julie King, both parenting experts in their own right. As suggested by its title, the book is “an essential manual of communication strategies” aimed at parents of children aged between 2 and 7.

So, get ready to learn what to do when your little kids refuse to brush their teeth or eat vegetables and prepare to discover how to praise and appreciate your children the right way!

Tools for handling emotions

Think of the last time you shouted at your child. Did you do it merely because of their actions? Or was there something else involved? More precisely, were you in a cheerful mood or already stressed about something else entirely? Were you relaxed and calm when your kid did something they shouldn’t have – or tired from work, overwhelmed by a deadline, and even vexed at your boss? Probably the latter, right? 

The point? The point, comments Faber, is that “we can’t behave right when we don’t feel right. And kids can’t behave right when they don’t feel right. If we don’t take care of their feelings first, we have little chance of engaging their cooperation.” It’s easy to deal with positive feelings: you just accept them. But accepting negative feelings is difficult. You don’t want to give them any power: you “want to correct them, diminish them, or preferably make them disappear altogether.” Your intuition tells you this. Well, your intuition is wrong in this case! All feelings can be accepted; it is the actions – and only some of them – that must be limited.

So, the next time your kid says something negative and inflammatory, resist the urge to immediately contradict them and, instead, think about the emotion they are feeling. There are several things you can do afterward:

Acknowledge their feelings with words.

  • “Oh, how disappointing – you wanted that ice cream so much and now the place is closed!”

Acknowledge their feelings with writing.

  • “OK – let’s prepare our order right away. We’ll write it in our notebook and leave it here under the door so that tomorrow they have it prepared before we arrive.”

Acknowledge their feelings with art.

  • Start drawing a cone and ask your kid to help you draw the ice cream from their dreams. Engage them in a discussion about the drawing: “What color is vanilla? Should we add some sprinkles?” 

Give in fantasy what you cannot give in reality.

  • “Oh, how great it would be if we had our own keys to the store! We could go in right now and try all the flavors. We could even make a 10-foot tall cone!”

Acknowledge feelings with (almost) silent attention.

  • Instead of lecturing your kid and exacerbating their sadness by saying things like “It’s only ice cream – it’s not a big deal,” empathize with them with a word or a sound such as “Ugh!” “Mmm.” “Ooh.” or “Huh.” Remember: they need to have their feelings heard and acknowledged first and foremost.

Tools for engaging cooperation

Acknowledging your kids’ feelings won’t make them do the things they must but don’t want to – like getting in the bathtub, climbing in the car seat, or going to bed. The problem is that kids are just like adults: they don’t want to be ordered around. Even if they really want to do something, as soon as they are told to do it, they might not want to do it anymore. “It’s human nature,” Faber reminds us. “Direct orders provoke direct opposition. When we give children commands, we’re working against ourselves. Where we had hoped to inspire obedience, we’ve just stirred up rebellion in their little hearts.”

Fortunately, there are many ways to get your kids to do what they have to do without risking upheaval:

Be playful.

  • Make it all a game: “Let’s set a new toothbrushing world record! The current record is three minutes? Can you brush your teeth longer than that? Ready… set… go!”
  • Make inanimate objects talk. “We are dirty teeth, filled with bacteria. We need someone to clean us up – or otherwise the big people won’t let us go to a pizza party tomorrow!”
  • Use silly voices and accents. “If Jedi you want to be, brush your teeth you must.”
  • Pretend: “Young soldier – the fate of the known universe depends on you brushing your teeth properly! Scientists say that if you miss just one spot – ugly bacteria from Mars will conquer our planet.”
  • Play the incompetent fool: “Oh dear, I’ve forgotten how toothbrushes work… Do you use them to clean your ears? Your nose? No! Can you show me what they do?”

Offer a choice.

  • Instead of threatening your kids that you’ll take them straight home if they continue throwing sand around, you can just offer a choice: “Sand is not for throwing. You can run on the grass or swing on the swing.” Make sure both options are acceptable to you and your child.

Put the child in charge.

  • “Bobby, would you set the timer and let us know when it’s time to leave for school?”

Give information.

  • “Tissues go in the trash.”

Say it with a word (or a gesture).

  • “Trash!”

Describe what you see.

  • Try to appreciate the progress made before describing the remaining parts of the job: “Hm, I see that most of the blocks are in the toy box. Only a few blocks left to go.”

Describe how you feel.

  • Avoid using the word “you”: when expressing anger always start sentences with “I”: “I don’t like food thrown on the floor.”

Write a note.

  • “Put me on your head before riding. Love, your bike helmet.”

Take action without insult.

  • Strong anger might feel like an attack, so express it sparingly: “I’m taking you home. I can’t let you throw around sand because it might get into the eyes of other children. You don’t want sand in your eyes, do you?”

Tools for resolving conflict

But what do you do if your kid refuses to cooperate with you on something that they must? What if, say, your impatient son pushes your unprepared daughter down the slide at the playground? Should he be scolded and punished – or even hit on the bottom? Most parents would say “yes”: after all, there are limits that kids must not be allowed to cross. However, Faber says that there are more peaceful and more effective solutions to conflict than chastisements and punishments. Let’s take our scenario and explore the best ideas through Faber’s examples:

  • Express your feelings... strongly!

a. Once again, use “I” instead of “you”: “Hey, what are you doing? I don’t like to see people being pushed!”

  • Show your kid how to make amends.

a. Be descriptive and kind: “As you can see, your sister is now hurt because of your actions. Don’t you think you should make her feel better? Would you like to come with me to the store and buy her some pretzels?”

  • Offer a choice.

a. “Since you’re in no mood to wait for your turn, I think that we will have to give the slide a rest for some time. You can swing on the swings or you can play in the sandbox. You decide.”

  • Take action without insult.

a. “We’re heading home. We’ll try the playground another day. I’m too worried about children getting hurt right now.”

  • Try problem-solving.

a. This is perhaps the best tactic for dealing with uncooperative kids. “You don’t have to wait for a problem to occur in order to use problem-solving,” suggests Faber. “When possible, plan ahead!” Problem-solving is a five-step interactive process that works like this:

  1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings. “I can see that you like sliding so much that you can’t wait to go again.”
  2. Describe the problem. “The problem is, there are many other children who like it as much as you. Imagine if they went constantly and took your turn by pushing you.”
  3. Ask for ideas. “We need some ideas to resolve this problem so that everybody can slide as much as they want.
  4. Decide which ideas you both like. “So, you like the idea of you going three times in a row than your sister going three times herself?”
  5. Try out your solutions. “OK, let’s see how our plan will work!”

Tools for praise and appreciation

It’s easy to praise your kids when they do something right. However, this is not always the best practice. As King writes, “the first rule of praise is that it’s not always appropriate to praise […] Sometimes acknowledging feelings can be more helpful than praise.” That said, just like adults, kids want to be appreciated and valued, so a few praises can go a long way toward raising healthy and well-behaved children. Here are a few ways to praise them that should help, and not hinder their development:

Describe what you see.

  • Instead of praising your kid’s shoddy work with phrases such as “Terrific!” – merely describe what you see, drawing attention to the good parts: “I see two beautiful black eyes and a nice round head. And look how small and cute you’ve drawn the nose of that bear!”

Describe the effect on others.

  • Instead of saying things like “Good boy! I knew you could be nice to your sister if you wanted to!” Say: “Your sister seems to love your funny grimaces. See? She smiles!”

Describe effort.

  • Praise the effort instead of the results: “Way to go! I know it took you a lot of time, but you kept trying to tie your shoes until you finally did it – and all by yourself!”

Describe progress.

  • Instead of calling attention to the lack of final result (“You’re still not dressed! We’re going to be late for school!”), describe the progress: “I see you’ve got your pants on and one arm in the sleeve. Do the other – and we’re ready to go!”

Final Notes

“How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” does the unimaginable: it rises to the high standards set by its predecessor, Faber and Mazlish’s “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.” 

In addition to the theoretical first part (“the basic equipment you’ll be glad to have in your toolbox when a youngster goes haywire”), the book also addresses the specific challenges of early childhood in its practical second half. It even includes a chapter with tools for kids with autism or sensory issues!

Integrative, well-organized, and straight to the point, “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” is really “a survival guide to life with children ages 2-7!”

12min Tip

Try to treat your kids more like adults, and they’ll treat you like an adult as well. And don’t forget that famous aphorism by Peggy O’Mara, the longtime editor and publisher of Mothering magazine: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”

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Who wrote the book?

Joanna Faber is the daughter of internationally acclaimed expert on communication between adults and children, Adele Faber. She has a master’s degree in special education and has taught bilingual students in West Harlem for a decade. A contributor to one of her m... (Read more)

Julie King is an American parent educator. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University and a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School. Together with Joanna Faber, she co-wrote “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen,” an interna... (Read more)

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