Do you use the mom-means-business voice to rap out short commands to your kid? “Do it and do it now!” Does your anger lead you to utter mean or hurtful words? Is it challenging to get your child to listen to you because they are preoccupied with something on TV or are plugged into their earphones? Do you take away from them something they love when you repeatedly ask them to do something, and they don’t? Or you do you send them on a space shuttle?
I came across this book while researching on how not to punish your child when they do something wrong repeatedly. Out of frustration, I would shout, “Stop it!”
I noticed my toddler would blankly stare then hide and cry. I would feel so guilty that I’d go to hug him immediately. He learned that the only way to break out of a tantrum would be to rush in my direction, crying for hugs when he erred. My idea of punishment backfired on us. That was not how I envisioned speaking to my child so he could listen. I had to stop it.
We are conditioned to talk to kids in a way they don’t listen. The tradition of having our feelings denied or being told it’s foolish to feel that way is ingrained in us. We were not reared to be in touch with ourselves and our emotions. But we have to fix that. We have to learn how to have clear open communication channels with everyone around us, including our kids.
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish address the parenting issues rooted in communication in one of the most important parenting books. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk could be considered a discipline book. However, it’s heavy on the timeless and not-too-preachy examples of how to create strong relationships with children of all ages. What’s pleasing is the authors see children as equals. It’s not just letting your child do whatever they want, but understanding your relationship dynamics and how there has to be mutual respect.
- Helping children deal with their feelings: How a child feels affects how they behave. If you deny a child’s feelings, it teaches them not to know or trust those feelings. Listen attentively, and acknowledge the feeling. Set firm limits and still maintain goodwill. That way, they won’t see you as part of the problem they’re acting out over.
- Alternatives to punishment: What do you normally do if your child crosses the limit? Timeouts, grounding, and barking orders can demoralize and infantilize the child. Express your feelings strongly, but do it without attacking their character. State your expectations, but show your child how to make amends. Solve the problem by letting them be part of the decision making. Brainstorm solutions until you come up with a compromise.
- Encouraging cooperation: Instead of thinking, “How can I control this child?” or enforcing cooperation through threats and scolding, we can think of our child as being on the same team and invite his help and participation. Enlighten and instruct your kid respectfully. If your teen left their towel on your bed, for example, you could write a note. “Put me back so I can dry.” Or do away with fluffy language and keep it brief. “The towel.”
- Encouraging autonomy: If we allow our kids to be wholly dependent on us, it can lead to frustration, resentment, and helplessness on their part. Empower them to make choices instead. Show respect for their struggle. Do not ask too many questions or rush to answer questions either. It may feel like an invasion of privacy. They should talk about anything they want when they want. Never take away hope. “So you’re thinking of trying out for football. That should be an experience.”
- Navigating praise wisely: When we praise our children too much, it can surpass the line of confidence to entitlement. Don’t just say “fantastic” or “good job” or confine them to who you think they are. Focus on their effort and work, not traits, to allow them to drive their conclusions on what they may do with their talents. “I see a clean room, sorted Legos, and books neatly put on the shelf. It’s a pleasure to view this room. That’s what I call organization!”
- Freeing children from playing roles: Once you label your child repetitively, they start to see themselves in that label, and they start showing you how stubborn/sore loser/destructive they can get. Find opportunities to show your child a new picture of themselves. Put them in situations they can see themselves in a different light. Let them overhear you say positive things about them. “He held himself steady even though the shot hurt.” Be a storehouse for your kid’s special moments. “I remember you were the first child on the block to ride a 2 wheeler bike.” When your child acts according to the old label, state your feelings and expectations: “I don’t like that. Despite your strong feelings, I expect you to be a good sport about losing.”
Reading this book made me understand that I’m not a bad parent. I just wasn’t well informed enough to listen to myself first before hearing and acknowledging other voices. It has a summarized, step-by-step action plan for each chapter. The exercises and examples help you think through scenarios and write down ideas for reference.
Read one chapter at a time to apply the methods taught in the chapter and practice until you are comfortable before moving to the next. Digest and make use of the most important and relevant information to you. It is less stressful and far more rewarding. It took a while to finish reading it, but it made sense why. What a relief the skills are!
- How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk, also written by Adele and Elaine, has essential tools and tips to help teens and parents communicate with each other effectively.
- How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen is a practical guide to living with children age 2-7. Adele’s daughter, Joanna Faber, and Julie King are the authors.