Book Review: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen
Picture from tiki

Authors: Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Published: 1980

Goodreads: 4.3/5
Barner&Noble: 4.3/5
Amazon: 4.7/5
(Feb 2020)

Despite being originally published 40 years ago, How To Talk so Kid will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is still a trending parenting-book nowadays. Over a number of books for parents I have read, this one obviously stays in one of the top positions.

What makes me impressed with this book?

  • The one core principle of treating children: to respect.
  • The 6 essential rules for parents to not only make family-life easier but also foster the development of their children.
  • A big collection of hypothetical and real-life parent-child situations along with corresponding solutions.

The book acts as a guide, a textbook and even an exercise book for parents who are struggling with their children, or maybe even for those who don’t.

To respect

Children are also humans. We all know that, however, as a parent (or say an older person), we often show signs of underestimating and disrespecting them. Of course, some parents perceived this issue and tried to fix it, nonetheless, the majority still suffer from this problem.

Children, in one way or the other, are just a slightly more sensitive version of adults. They, just like adults, need and deserve being respected. The main point of this book is to show and to guide parents on how they should do, in specific actions, to express their respect to their children. Those are:

Accept their feeling

Children get hurt when their feelings are denied or disbelieved.

What are parents’ usual acts? We usually tell the children to not believe in what they feel, but instead, believe in what WE feel.

Child: Mom, I’m tired.
Mom: Why are you tired? You have just wakened up from your nap.
Child: But I’m really tired.
Mom: You are just sleepy, let me change your clothes.
Child: NO, I’M TIRED.

To accept their feeling is even harder when you are angry (because of what they did or said, of your work, your household or others).

When someone confides with you about what distresses them, the last things they want to receive probably are advice on what to do, psychological analysis, your opinion on that bad situation and, especially, something like “Just forget it”. They would appreciate it if you could actively listen to them, and then they will have their own ways to sort things out. Avoid questioning and pushing your opinion on them.

Practical guide:

  • Pay attention.
    Child: Dad, Eric hit me.
    Dad turns off the TV: I’m listening.
  • Accept their feeling.
    Parent: “Uhmm”, “So that is it”, “So the problem is …”
  • Name their feeling.
    Parent: That is so sad you lose a friend.
  • State their wishes.
    Parent: I hope I have a big biscuit box for you right now.

Be specific to let them know you really understand.
Instead of “I know what you feel.“, == change to ==> “So you feel that …“.
Instead of “That is bad.“, == change to ==> “That is bad to have …“.

Keep in mind that we should try to feel their feeling and let them know we do care about them and respect them.

Encourage cooperation

Don’t tell them what to do, instead, let them think about what they should do.

Here are the bad acts:

  • To accuse.
    Parent: I saw junks all over the toilet, it was you, wasn’t it?
  • To criticize.
    Parent: You forgot to close the windows again. I have said it many times, why can’t you remember it, are you stupid?
  • To threaten.
    Parent: You will get punished if touching the light again.
  • To command.
    Parent: Clean your room. Now.
  • To scare them.
    Parent: Take on your coat, you will get a cold.
  • To predict their future.
    Parent: Don’t be selfish. You see, nobody wants to play with you. You will never have a friend.
  • To compare them with some others.
    Parent: Why can’t you be like your brother? He always takes care of his homework on time.
  • To ironize.
    Parent: You know tomorrow you will have a test, yet you still forget your book at school, what a genius.

And here the good acts:

  • Describe what you see or the problem.
    If your child forgot to turn off the light, instead of “Mary, turn off the light” == change to ==> “Mary, the light is still on“.
  • Give information.
    Instead of “Why is your room so messy? This is like a pigsty” == change to ==> “Toys should be stored in the toy-box after used“.
    Note to not give the information they already knew, they might feel offended.
  • Say a short sentence.
    Instead of “Look at yourself, you go without your lunch box again. What can you remember then?” == change to ==> “Hey, your lunch box“.
    They know what to do, they just forgot and needed a reminder from you.
  • State your feeling.
    Instead of “What is wrong with you, why do you never close the door?” == change to ==> “I’m very uncomfortable when the door is left open, lots of flies and mosquitos may get into the house“.
  • Write a brief message or memo. This confirms that you care about them because you do spend your time writing out.

The good acts may not work the first time we try, however, keep at it. Our children are feeling better gradually.

Alternative solutions for punishments

Some parents assume punishments are necessary, that this is the way to put their children into discipline. Nevertheless, this view is not supported by research. In fact, all that punishments bring are hate, resentment, angst, violence, guilt, and hopelessness.

According to Dr. Ginott (a pioneer in child psychologist and parent educator, he is also the author of Between Parent and Child – a best seller), in a love relationship, there is no room for punishments, that punishment is ineffective. Contrary to helping children realize their fault and fix it, punishments fill them with retaliating ideas.

Alternatives for punishments are:

  • To express your disagreement.
    Parent: I feel uncomfortable that my new saw was left outside and being rusted.
  • To state your expectations.
    Parent: I expect my tools to be returned to their place after you use them.
  • To let children know how to fix the problem (and have them fix it).
    Parent: Now this saw needs quite a lot of effort polishing.
  • To give them choices.
    Parent: Between borrowing my tools then returning them and you are not allowed to use them, what do you choose?
  • To let them experience the consequences of their bad behaviors.
    Lock your toolbox.

When encountering a problem, you may sit down with your child and follow these steps:

  1. Say about the child’s feelings and needs.
  2. Say about your feelings and needs.
  3. Brainstorm to find out solutions and write them down (don’t judge any solution yet, just write them all down).
  4. Select one or several best solutions (that both you and your child concur on) and make a plan.
  5. Carry out the plan.

Remember to keep your mind calm and cool before trying to solve the problem, and give respect to any ideas without judgment.

Foster autonomy

Being children means they are on the way to becoming adults. Being adults means they are able to take responsibility, so being children means they are supposed to practice being responsible.

The advice for parents is to not decide for them and let them be responsible for their own work.

To foster their autonomy:

  • Let them choose.
    Parent: Do you want to drink one or a half cup of juice?
  • Respect their trying-effort.
    Parent: Adding 2 fractions is not so easy, especially when you have to find the common multiple.
  • Avoid overwhelming them with questions.
    When he/she just get home, just say hi instead of asking “Where have you been? was that fun? is it cold?
  • Don’t answer their question instantly.
    Parent: What do you think the reason might be?
  • Encourage them to make use of resources outside the family.
    Parent: I think our neighbor, who is a gardener, may answer your question about that tree.
  • Don’t crush their hope.
    Parent: So you want to be the main character of that play, that would be a good experience.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to the unnecessary details, leave them room to be themselves.
    Don’t say: I feel so annoyed with your style, how can you wear a blue shirt with red jeans at the same time? Change your clothes immediately!
  • Refrain from saying too many NO and BUT.


Those who live in a family where their bests are appreciated have a tendency to be more confident, braver against challenges and setting higher life goals.

The praises should be specific, reasonable and sincere. It would even be better if you just describe the positive fact and let the children praise themselves.
Parent: You can put your shoes on by yourself, you can even brush your teeth before bed without being reminded, you can do a lot of things already!

Another simple way to describe the fact is to condense the praise into 1 word.
Parent: you said that you would come home before 5 and you have done that. I call it punctuation.

Remember these pinpoints:

  • The compliment must be suitable for your child’s age and knowledge.
    It is unreasonable for a 10-years old to be praised for being able to read the clock. The child may feel it a mockery.
  • It should not reminder him/her of a failure in the past.
    Don’t say: So you finally have done your daily exercise today.
  • The magnitude of the praise should be appropriate.
  • Be prepared that the child may repeat what he was praised for.
    If you don’t want your child to blow the whistle 5 more times, don’t say: “Woah, you know how to make it loud with this whistle.
  • Don’t say “I’m so proud of you” or “I knew you would have done that“, the child will feel that what he/she has achieved is for you, not for him/her.

It is easier to criticize than to praise, and that is what we should change and try to change.

Liberate them from playing roles

A major mistake of parents is to make assumptions about children’s ability, personality, and future. We, humans, are all malleable. Things are changing. Your child may be so stubborn today, but that does not have to be true next week or next month. The fact that we assume his stubbornness is what makes him really stubborn.

Prejudice is a kind of insinuation by suggestion. If you think your child is an innate bully, your actions will make him feel that he is really a bully, then he acts as a real bully.

So how about you assume a positive future for your child? Suppose you pre-define that he would be a good doctor, you not only make him suffer stress unnecessarily but also limit his freedom of living his life.

Humans’ characteristics are not fixed, we change over time.

To liberate your child from a role:

  • Utilize opportunities to show them a new picture of themselves.
    If your child is often stubborn, wait until he is not and tell him. E.g. “Martin, you insisted on playing football today, but then you decided to cancel it and come home early as I wish.
  • Put them into situations that they can observe themselves in a different way.
    Parent: Each of us wants to go to a different restaurant. David, maybe you can find a solution for this?
  • Sometimes, let them know when you say something positive about them.
    Mom says to dad: Today, David found a way to …
  • Make yourself a model for how you want the child to behave.
    Mom: I’m sad. I was all prepared to go to the movie theater today, but then dad reminded me about our plan to watch the basketball match… Nevermind, I think I should postpone the movie for another week.
  • Be a repository of your child’s special memory.
    Parent: I remember how you were against the boy scout at first, then you changed your mind, tried to learn about it and then actually gave it a try.
  • When your child misbehaves, let him know your feeling and your wish.
    Parent: David, at a wedding, if you wear old jeans, people may consider that you think this wedding is not important. Thus, although I know you hate suit, I hope you dress appropriately.

Remember the above 6 rules.

My final thoughts

Above, I have summarized what I learned from the book. However, I know this summary is unable to convey the vast and diverse assortment of examples that were given by Adele and Elaine in this great book. Their reasonings are also exceptional, not just in theory but also real-life based. This is definitely qualified to act as a textbook for every parent to learn from.

The book: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elain Mazlish

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