How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

The Big Ideas!

  • Many difficulties in parenting can be made better by improving the way you communicate with your child.
  • When children feel heard and validated, they become less defensive and more cooperative.
  • Children should experience the natural consequences of misbehavior. Arbitrary punishment is a distraction from the inner process of facing one’s own behavior, and it is not effective in changing future behavior.

Neutrino’s Nutshell

The book begins with a scenario where an adult complains about something which happened at the office. As a good friend, you are provided eight possible responses to this situation, seven of which dismiss your friend’s underlying feelings. Responses range from advice and questioning  to novice psychoanalysis. When you’re reading these responses it’s pretty clear how most of them would cause your friend frustration; at the same time it’s easy to see how these are part of the natural human response system. The eighth response is an empathetic response-the one most rarely chosen. This scenario effectively conveys one of the books most important points-adults frequently speak in disrespectful and dismissive ways to friends, partners, and of course, their kids.

Working from this premise, this guide emphasizes clear communication as the key to improving children’s behavior. Here are six key concepts that will help you change your child’s behavior through altering your own reactions to what they do.

  1. Validate your child’s feelings. When a child feels understood, he or she becomes less defensive and more open to fixing the situation.
  2. Engage your child’s cooperation by describing what you see objectively; providing relevant information; using a single word as a reminder; or describing your own feelings.
  3. Use alternatives to punishment, such as joint problem-solving or strongly expressing your feelings in an “I” message.
  4. Encourage autonomy by offering age-appropriate choices; demonstrating respect for a child’s difficult experience; giving the child space to answer his or her own question, rather than providing advice; leading children to external information resources; and letting children gain their own experience of success or failure, instead of attempting to prevent negative outcomes.
  5. Rely on description, not evaluation. Instead of giving general praise, be specific about what you see and how you feel. Or name the child’s success with one word: “You gave your sister a hug when she fell down. That’s what I call kindness!”
  6. When children are placed into roles (such as “bully” or “stubborn”) by others, take steps to show your child a different side of himself or herself.


By trying to protect children from disappointment, we protect them from hoping, striving, dreaming, and sometimes from achieving their dreams.”

“For many of us, sarcasm, lectures, warnings, name-calling and threats were all woven into the language we heard as we were growing up. It isn’t easy to give up the familiar.”

“When we acknowledge a child’s feelings, we do him a great service. We put him in touch with his inner reality. And once he’s clear about that reality, he gathers the strength to begin to cope.”

IMEO (In My Eudaimonian Opinion)

This book is highly recommended because of its ease of use. Every chapter contains brief cartoons that illustrate the key concepts, as well as takeaway points at the end of each chapter. The parenting concepts are explained through case examples, and questions are offered to help parents apply what they’ve just read to interactions with their own children.

The authors also get bonus points for differentiating between praise, which is nonspecific, and descriptive observations, which give more information about why the child’s effort is a success!

Take action, humanoid!

Ready to break out of the endless cycle of yelling, taking away privileges, or giving time-outs? Here are a few starting points for revolutionizing your child’s behavior. The appropriate response in a particular situation depends on your child’s age and the circumstances, so view this list as a tool kit of possible ways to react.

Instead of explaining or using logic (when children are upset or irrational)…
Try this: Validate children’s feelings with a neutral listening response, such as “I see”; by naming their experience, as in “That sounds very frustrating”; or by providing fantasy wish fulfillment in responding, “I wish I could make ________ happen for you right this minute.”

Instead of criticizing what the child is doing wrong…
Try this: Describe what you see and give the child a chance to self-correct: “Billy, the water in the sink is very close to the top.” Or give useful information: “When milk is left out of the fridge, it gets sour.” Or, for repeat offenders, use one-word reminders: “Billy, the TRASH.”

Instead of making personal accusations like “You’re being so rude! Stop interrupting me!”…
Try this: Talk about your own experience: “I feel so frustrated when you don’t let me finish my sentence.”

Instead of handing down a punishment for misbehavior…
Try this: Problem-solve together to find a solution to the problem. Or show the child how to make amends. Or forgo discussion altogether and simply block the behavior – for example, by locking your toolbox after the child borrows tools without asking.

The Deets

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
Authors: Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Publication date: 1999 (20th anniversary edition; 286 pages)Neutrino’s Nutshell

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