Review of How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen and How to Listen so Your Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
I wanted to review this book as it stands as a classic in parenting advice that has withstood the test of time. The book was first published thirty years ago and has been a bestseller. As I child, I remember a copy of this book sitting on my parents bookshelf and I’ve had several discussions with my mother about how she applied its methods and strategies over the years.
The book is widely respected in professional circles and has spawned a number of workshops and training programs. The authors continue to be busy designing curriculum and training programs that integrate the core concepts of their approach.
The authors Faber and Mazlish began their collaboration as parents who sought answers to their own problems in a series of workshops given by the late Dr. Haim Ginnot. Both Faber and Mazlish are mothers of three children and provide a multitude of examples in applying the strategies in the book.
The book is written in a collaborative style as it provides a number of testamonials from parents, using what they’ve learned and telling their own stories. The book makes the claim that its approach will help parents set firm limits, resolve family conflicts, teach problem solving, help to provide alternatives to punishment, and most importantly how to help parents engage cooperation from children. These issues are addressed with thoroughness and depth and although a number of tools and strategies are suggested by the book, I would say that the wisdom of the approach rests in building the kind of relationship between parent and child that encourages collaboration and enhances emotional connectedness.
Another strength of the book is its focus on building communication skills. These skills are applied through structured dialogues that can occur between parent and child. At the end of each chapter there is a formula for achieving the particular objectives that are discussed. The authors advise the reader to post these dialogues in a visible location as a reminder of how to respond to their child.
One of my favorites has to do with engaging a child’s cooperation. In the example, the numbered items provide instruction on addressing the problem. In this case, it’s a wet towel that’s been left on a parent’s bed:
1. DESCRIBE WHAT YOU SEE, OR DESCRIBE THE PROBLEM
‘There’s a wet towel on the bed’
2. GIVE INFORMATION
‘The towel is getting my blanket wet’
3. SAY IT WITH A WORD
4. DESCRIBE WHAT YOU FEEL
‘I don’t like sleeping in a wet bed’
5. WRITE A NOTE
(above the towel rack)
Please put me back so I can dry
Your Towel (p. 74).
As you can see, the book has a flavor of humor and inventiveness that shows through. In each chapter there are a series of descriptive cartoons that show what to do and what not to do. My favorite cartoon has to do with a father’s response to the death of his daughter’s turtle. What I really like about this particular approach is that encourages parents to view their interactions as part of a practice that deepens with increased connectedness with their child and increased competency in applying the skills of dialogue.
The book is written in a very applicable format. In each chapter it provides the reader with a scenario that a parent would have to deal with and asks to fill in an appropriate response. The book could be helpful for use on one’s own or as part of reading group or workshop.
The book proves to have a lot of latitude as it gives instructions on everything from communication to opinionated advice on methods of punishment.
The authors shun the use of punitive punishment and describe how it deprives children of the inner process of taking responsibility for their own behavior. In terms of dealing with misbehavior, the focus is on making clear expectations and showing the child how to make amends. The latter sections of the book focus on tasks of later parenting, such as encouraging autonomy and freeing children from restrictive roles.
Overall, the authors embrace the view that parenting is an art, and I think this is best expressed in their instructions on how to give a child the unique kinds of compliments that build self-esteem. The instruction is, rather than evaluate what the child is doing; describe what you see and what you feel, and sum it up in a simple comment such as ‘that was really well done’. The authors stress that it’s just as important to notice the detail and attention that it took to get the job done as to validate the quality with which it was done.
I think this instruction is a real gem and shows why the authors have a model of parenting that has endured when so many other fads have come and gone. It is very fundamentally sound and I think that it will continue to offer wisdom to not just our generation, but for generations to come.
Joe Elliott has been working to help families for the past thirteen years. His specialties are in couples counseling, family therapy, death and dying, parenting, financial management, and adoption. Joe received his undergraduate degree from Naropa University in Psychology and Religious Studies and his Masters in Counseling from Regis University in Denver. Joe completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy from The Denver Family Institute. Joe has also taught Family Therapy to students at Metro State Community College. Find out more here.