How to Talk so Kids Will Listen…And Listen So Kids Will Talk

Insights and time-tested methods to solve common problems and build foundations for lasting relationships.

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kk: From The Parents Club, I’m Karsen Kolnicki. This is your briefing.


kk: Today, we’re discussing How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. [PAUSE]   Written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

In this bestselling classic by internationally acclaimed experts on communication between parents and children, the authors share their time-tested methods for solving the most common problems and build foundations for lasting relationships.

This episode includes ways to cope with your child’s negative feelings like frustration, anger, and disappointment. This book covers how to help children express strong feelings without being hurtful, engage your child’s willing cooperation, set firm limits, and maintain goodwill. As well as alternatives to punishment that promote self-discipline to resolve family conflicts peacefully.

kk: Vincent Phamvan on the key takeaways [pause] and what you need to know.


kk: Vincent, let’s jump to what everyone’s thinking. How do you change your child’s behavior?

vp: Well, the authors argue in this book that the only way to get through to a child to change their behaviors is to acknowledge their feelings.

So let’s say you’re in the grocery store and your five-year-old suddenly yells, “I’m hungry, I want food right now!”

What should a parent do?

Many parents would yell back at the child or snap and tell him to shut up. Do you think that would work?

kk: Probably not. The child would just keep screaming.

vp: Right, so instead of blaming the child, you can pacify the situation. Faber and Mazlish explain that when kids don’t listen to their parents, it’s because their feelings aren’t being acknowledged.

A child’s behavior is tied to how he or she feels, and so when we communicate with a child, we don’t address this.

Yelling back that the child should be quiet in the supermarket overlooks their feelings. Behind the tantrum is hunger and frustration at being ignored. The child can’t actually see why they should behave because they feel so bad.

kk: So the way to get through to him or her is to accept and address the feelings?

vp: Yes, that’s what the authors suggest. Start by acknowledging how they feel by saying something like “I realize you’re hungry, it’s been a while since breakfast, huh?”

It’s important to be honest. Don’t try to acknowledge the feelings if you don’t understand what they are, or they’ll pick up on it and think that you aren’t actually listening, which will just make things worse.

kk: What if you can still feel yourself getting angry at your child?

vp: As a parent, you have to control your anger and pick up the communication skills to convince your child.

Anger in your response won’t help. Even if you shout, use sarcasm, threaten, or command, it’ll lead to the same outcome… the child won’t listen. They’ll just become angrier themselves.

kk: Okay, so what do you do instead?

vp: There are a few skills here, first describe the problem you see to your child. Don’t accuse anyone of anything, just explain the problem.

For example, for a child that is upset that you won’t let them stay up past their bedtime, you can say something like “When you stay up late, you feel tired in the morning.”

Then, give some information about why the behavior might not be helpful, like “When you’re tired you don’t have enough energy and you find it hard to concentrate at school.”

When you take the time to explain these points, it will help children to figure out what needs to be done. With this information, they can determine what is good for them.

kk: So it sounds like by communicating that way, the child will be ready to listen without either person getting angrier. What about punishments?

vp: So Faber and Mazlish say that you should never punish your children. Instead, you want to come to a compromise.

Sometimes trying to get your child to do what you want can be a pretty frustrating experience. They might ignore you, or refuse to listen, or rebel against your advice.

Punishment only leads to anger, and it actually hinders future progress.

kk: So you’re saying that punishing a child only makes them feel more bitterness towards you?

vp: Precisely, it’ll make him or her feel less likely to follow your advice in the future. It also stops the child from learning what they did wrong.

If you have an older child that stays out too late multiple nights in a row on a school night, you might decide to punish them with a grounding. But stopping them from going out will make them feel angry and misunderstood. They won’t see how staying out late is a bad idea, it’ll just make them see that you don’t approve of it.

kk: With that being said, what would an alternative approach look like?

vp: A different approach would be first, having a conversation about the child’s feelings and needs. You’d start by asking why she came back late and why she would feel mistreated if she has to come home earlier.

Then, you’d share your own feelings and needs. You could explain that you feel concerned if they come home after curfew because you’d worry that they might be in danger.

Next, you’d brainstorm together to find a mutually acceptable solution while writing them all down… without any judgment over the ideas. Some of the ideas might be not having a curfew on one day, or that the child should text you to explain why they’ll be late.

Lastly, once you come to an agreement on which suggestions you both like, you can try them out. It’s important to note here that you don’t want to force your favorite ideas on the child, the entire goal is to come to a mutual agreement.

kk: It sounds like staying away from classic punishment styles also helps the child think independently about their behavior.

vp: Yes, letting your kids become independent gives them a chance to act and discover things on their own.

Eventually, they need to grow up and become responsible adults. Watching your child struggle to make their own decisions isn’t comfortable. Sometimes it’s just easier to step in and do it for them, but then they’ll continue to depend on you, and eventually the dependency increases along with a feeling of helplessness or worthlessness.

When taken to an extreme, the authors say that this can lead to hostility and stubbornness.

kk: What are the best ways to let children build autonomy?

vp: Well, one way is to let them make their own choices. So for example, for homework, you can let your child design their plan for homework and playtime. The homework has to be completed, but you can help them decide when and how to do it.

Another idea is to encourage your child to seek advice from others, like asking teachers or friends.

From time to time, your child will struggle, but that’s okay. And it’s best to make peace with this. Everyone needs a chance to explore answers for themselves.

kk: That makes sense. Are there ways to help your child grow and learn from mistakes?

vp: One thing we haven’t talked about yet is praising and talking about your child’s behavior.

When your child does something well, you can share the praise with them. This simple action will help develop self-esteem.

You don’t want to evoke unexpected reactions like anxiety or be viewed as manipulative though. So you should try to praise in a helpful way.

kk: What exactly is helpful praise?

vp: Faber and Mazlish describe helpful praise as two-fold: describe what your child has done and then allow him or her to praise themselves.

So instead of saying, “You wrote a lovely poem,” you would say “Your poem really moved me, I especially love the second line.”

You can also add a line summarizing the behavior, like “That’s what I call creativity.”

You also want to make sure that the praise doesn’t hint at a past mistake, failure, or weakness.

For example, don’t say, “Your last poem was not good, but this is better!” You want them to get all of the good feelings.

And lastly, use praise selectively so that it doesn’t wear off over time.

kk: That makes sense, is there anything else to keep in mind?

vp: Yes, the authors also say that you should avoid labels.

kk: What’s an example of a label?

vp: A label would be something like calling your child stubborn or bossy. The reason is that it’s hard to drop these labels in the future. So many kids will adapt to their label and actually start acting that way in the future. So yea, don’t call your kid lazy unless you want them to live a life-time of being lazy.

That goes both ways, by the way, you don’t want to label yourself or your partner either.

kk: So stay away from labels entirely.

vp: Yes.

kk: It sounds like the key takeaway from this book is that instead of blaming your children for your frustration, you can communicate well by making some tweaks to the way you speak with them. By listening, sharing feelings, and helping your children make decisions together, your job as a parent will become easier, their behavior will improve, and you’re helping them to become more independent.


kk: That’s it for your briefing. I’m Karsen Kolnicki.

vp: And I’m Vincent Phamvan

kk: See you next time.


Enthusiastically praised by parents and professionals around the world, the down-to-earth, respectful approach of Faber and Mazlish makes relationships with children of all ages less stressful and more rewarding.
Internationally acclaimed experts on communication between parents and children, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish “are doing for parenting today what Dr. Spock did for our generation” (Parent Magazine).  Now, this bestselling classic includes fresh insights and suggestions as well as the author’s time-tested methods to solve common problems and build foundations for lasting relationships.

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