How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, etc.

I’ve decided to post about a lot of the parenting books I’ve read, and I thought I’d start with the classic, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  For one thing, it’s the first book I got as an about-to-be parent – my mother-in-law gave it to me; it was her favorite when she was raising her kids.  It was also the first parenting book I read – when I was about ten or so.  My stepmom had it, I think for a child psychology class or something.  I picked it up and read through it, wondering the whole time, if she was reading this book, why she was not following any of its advice?  But that’s another post.  Which will never be written.

So one of the things that’s striking about the book is that it is a little dated.  Not in terms of its advice; that’s still solid.  But it came out in 1982; it’s clearly talking to parents of my parents’ generation, not of mine.  And there are expectations about the kinds of parenting the reader experienced that I would bet are not true of a significant portion of people in my generation.  Not that our parents didn’t make mistakes.  Our parents made plenty of mistakes.  I just think that a lot of them made different mistakes from their own parents, and so the mistakes this book is designed to correct are not necessarily the ones my generation has to guard the hardest against.  Like, not too many parents of my parents’ generation and socioeconomic group still thought spanking was cool.  And seriously, how many people born after 1950 actually call children “fresh” and then don’t immediately go, “Oh, my God, I sound like my mother”?

These authors, along with half of the authors I’ve read, reference Dr. Haim Gingott, who basically invented the concept of respecting your child’s emotions.  So I read his book somewhere along the way and learned that this book is essentially his book, with helpful cartoons.

And the cartoons are helpful!  I mean, sure, things work a lot cleaner and a lot faster in cartoons than they usually do in real life but it does give you a very real sense of what the principles look like in action.

Really, I don’t have major criticisms of this book.  It’s not my favorite, because it’s a lot of workshop-y stuff, with exercises for you to fill in and whatnot, and I prefer more analysis and stuff, but its advice is solid, its tone is relate-able, and the cartoons are kind of cute.  So, with that, on to the


– Don’t be an asshole to your own kid.  If you wouldn’t say it to a dear friend, don’t say it to your kid.  (Of course, it’s possible you’re an asshole to your friends.  So check that out first.)  Accept and respect his/her feelings, even if you can’t approve of his/her actions.

– Don’t punish.  But make the kid pay the consequences for his actions.  Like, don’t ground your kid for forgetting a homework assignment.  But make him/her take the bad grade and figure out what s/he can do to make up for it without your assistance.

– Less is frequently more.  There are a lot of techniques in here that are helpful but sound a little cheesy – like writing your kid silly notes to remind them about their chores, or giving them their wishes in fantasy (“I would love to get you that $90 piece of pink plastic crap!  If only I had all the money in the world, and a stomach lined with iron, I would buy it for you!  I would buy you a hundred billion pink plastic pieces of crap!”), but the authors also remind us that a simple “Chore!” or “No, sorry” will suffice.


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