Book Review: How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

I think I’m probably not alone when I say I’m nervous about the day my daughter turns 12 and she suddenly becomes a brooding teenager.  I have heard she may start to draw solid boundary lines in thick black marker to keep me out of her life.  Although it’s still six years away, I’m also painfully aware of how quickly the last six years have passed and I know that teenage hormones will be upon us in the blink of an eye.
I have always envisioned having a friendly but authoritative relationship with my children that would keep me in the loop once the kids started becoming hormonal but also maintains the parent-child roles.  I thought I was doing OK until one day my daughter started keeping secrets from me and she began showing obvious signs of being afraid of me.  That glance of worry or fear she shot at me as soon as she did or said something questionable tore my heart to a million pieces.  It also made me concerned about our future relationship and her willingness to share her life with me openly.
So, when someone recommended, “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish I decided this was one book I had to read to equip myself with the right communication tools.  The authors cover such issues as helping children to deal with their feelings, engaging cooperation, encouraging autonomy, alternatives to punishment, praise and more.  Perhaps the books greatest strength lies in the fact that it covers the major reasons for communication meltdowns between parents and their children, and offers simple solutions that require nothing more than small behaviour changes on the part of the parent.  As an example, the authors suggest giving your child his/her wish as a fantasy.  This particular bit of advice has worked wonders for me and my children.

The authors give you the tools to communicate with your kids

This is how a conversation used to happen between my daughter and myself:
  • Nada: Mom I don’t want to have a shower today!
  • Me: Sweety we take showers everyday otherwise we will be smelly.
  • Nada: No! I don’t smell!
  • Me: Comeon Nada, we have been doing the same thing year in year out for 6 years! Let’s go take a shower.  The quicker you get in the shower, the quicker it will be over.
  • Nada: I don’t want to take a shower! *Starts pouting and stomping her feet and slamming doors (her, not me).
  • Me: I’m going to count to three, I want to see you in the shower before I finish counting otherwise you’re going to bed now.
Needless to say neither of us would come away from this exchange feeling good.  In fact, it’s a sure way to discourage my daughter from having an open and trusting relationship with me.  Nowadays our conversations go a little like this (using granting her wish through fantasy).
  • Nada: Mom, I don’t want to take a shower today!
  • Me: Sweety we take showers everyday otherwise we will be smelly!
  • Nada: No! I don’t smell!
  • Me: Oh wow! Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of us didn’t take a shower!  We could save so much water and when you walk in the street everyone would smell ewwwww (and I start to sniff her like a dog all over her body, making faces at how stinky she is).  Oh you stink! Oh no! There are trees growing on you now because of all the dirt! Wow look you have a tree growing from your armpits!  Omar! Come see the trees growing on your sister!
At this point Nada cracks up laughing and rolling around on the floor in glee.  She stands up and pulls her pyjamas out of the cupboard and goes to take a shower.  The beauty of this technique is that it turns a potential conflict into a fun and loving interaction between my daughter and I.  By the end of this, we are hugging and laughing and having a jolly time.  
happy children

Better communication translates to happier kids

Another technique by Faber and Mazish is meant to encourage a child’s autonomy, and this has transformed my parenting style almost entirely.  As a parent I feel it is my duty to impart my wisdom upon my children, often giving them advice and offering solutions to their problems.  Faber and Mazlish make the argument that by offering solutions and advice to our children we are not encouraging their problem solving skills and their ability to seek answers from other sources.  Instead of talking, I listen and allow my children to solve their own problems.  All I have to do is say, “aha…hmmmm…ya….”to encourage my children to talk more and figure out their own problems, as well as encourage them to seek their answers through other sources (saying things like, who do you think might be able to help you with that? Or, where do you think you might find answers to that?). 
encouraging autonomy

Encourage autonomy in your kids to build confidence

There are plenty other similar techniques described in the book for a variety of different scenarios.  All in all, this is one of my favourite parenting books.  I am so glad that I read it because it transformed my relationship with my children in a way that was pain free and so simple!  The book is written in a very practical way with plenty of exercises for parents to practice the techniques and you will immediately reep the benefits of applying the techniques.  Have you read this book or another parenting book which you found helpful?  Let us know your thoughts.
Manal Hamid

Manal Hamid

Partner & COO at Moms Guide Abu Dhabi
aka, Emirati Mom
A 30-something mom of two kids making everything happen all at once! SAHM who recently made the leap back to working full-time.
Manal Hamid

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