How to Talk to Kids

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

This book is a classic and I knew I had to reread it because I was sure there were bits of wisdom in it that I had forgotten or just needed to reinforce.

Here are some of the passages I highlighted while reading it again.

Be Accepting of Feelings

When kids feel right, they’ll behave right.

How do we help them to feel right?

By accepting their feelings!

Problem-Parents don’t usually accept their children’s feelings; for example

“You don’t really feel that way”

“You’re just saying that because you’re tired.”

“There’s no reason to be upset.”

Steady denial of feelings can confuse and enrage kids. Also teaches them to not to know what their feelings are-not to trust them.

Just Listen

When I’m upset or hurting, the last thing I want to hear is advice, philosophy, psychology, or the other fellow’s point of view. That kind of talk only makes me feel worse than before. Pity leaves me feeling pitiful; questions put me on the defensive; and most infuriating of all is to hear that I have no reason to feel what I am feeling.

… let someone really listen, let someone acknowledge my inner pain and give me a chance to talk more about what’s troubling me and I begin to feel less upset, less confused, more able to cope with my feelings and my problem.

Resist the temptation to “make better” instantly. Instead of giving advice, continue to accept and reflect your child’s feelings.

Children don’t need to have their feelings agreed with; they need to have them acknowledged.

What people of all ages can use in a moment of distress is not agreement or disagreement; they need someone to recognize what it is they are experiencing.

Help With Feelings

1. Listen with full attention.
2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word –“Oh” . . . “Mmm” . . . “I see.”
3. Give their feelings a name.
4. Give them their wishes in a fantasy.

An Example of a Great Dialogue with No Nagging Involved

“Sure, Dad, later”

“I’d feel better if I knew just when you plan to get to it.”

“As soon as this program is over.”

“When is that?”

“About an hour.”

“Good, now I can count on the lawn being done one hour from now. Thanks, Steve.”

Punishment Doesn’t Work

Dr. Ginott said that the problem with punishment was that it didn’t work, that it was a distraction, that instead of the child feeling sorry for what he has done and thinking how he can make ammends, he becomes preoccupied with revenge fantasies. In other words, by punishing a child, we actually deprive him of the very important inner process of facing his own misbehavior.

Alternatives to Punishment

1. Point out a way to be helpful.
2. Express strong disapproval (without attacking character).
3. State your expectations.
4. Show the child how to make amends.
5. Give a choice.
6. Take action.
7. Allow the child to experience the consequences of his misbehavior.

…time-out was not new or innovative, but an updated version of the outdated practice of making a ‘naughty’ child stand in the corner . . . It is our conviction that the child who is misbehaving does not need to be banished from the members of his family, even temporarily.

Make Amends

There is an important message built into this approach. It says, “When there is a conflict between us, we no longer have to mobilize our forces against each other, and worry about who will emerge victorious and who will go down in defeat. Instead we can put our energy into searching for the kind of solutions that respect both our needs as individuals.” We are teaching our children that they needn’t be our victims or our enemies. We are giving them the tools that will enable them to be active participants in solving the problems that confront them–now, while they’re at home, and in the difficult complex world that awaits them.”

A child needs to feel our disapproval at certain times, but if our reaction is of such strength that the child feels worthless and despised for his offence, we have abused our power as parents and have created the possibility that exaggerated guilt feelings and self-hatred will play a part in this child’s personality development.

That’s why we feel that whenever possible, along with our disapproval, we should point the way toward helping a child make amends.

Problem Solving Process

  1. Talk about the child’s feelings
  2. Talk about your feelings
  3. Invite the child to work on finding a mutually acceptable solution.

…rather than taking over and doing the job for the child, we suggest you give some useful information instead:

Sometimes it helps if . . .

We like the words “sometimes it helps” because if it doesn’t help.  the child is spared feelings of inadequacy.

Don’t Ask This Question

“Did you have fun today?” What a demand to make upon a child! Not only did he have to go to the party (school, play, camp, dance) but the expectation is that he should enjoy himself. If he didn’t, he has his own disappointment to cope with plus that of his parents. He feels he let them down by not having a good time.

Be a Sounding Board

Usually when a child asks a question, she’s already done some thinking about the answer. What she can use is an adult who will act as a sounding board to help her explore her thoughts further.

By giving our children immediate answers, we do them no favor. It’s as if we’re doing their mental exercise for them. It’s much more helpful to children to have their questions turned back to them for further examination. . . The process for searching for the answer is as valuable as the answer itself.


When a child figures out for herself what she wants to do, she grows in confidence and is willing to assume responsibility for her decision.

a) Help her sort out her tangled thoughts and feelings

b) Restate the problem as a question

c) Point out resources your child can use outside the home

Instead of Evaluating, Describe.

  1. Describe what you see – “I see a clean floor, a smooth bed, and books lined neatly up on the shelf.”
  2. Describe what you feel – “It’s a pleasure to walk into this room.”
  3. Sum up the child’s praiseworthy behavior with a word. – “You sorted out your pencils, crayons, and pens, and put them in separate boxes. That’s what I call organization!”

It was amazing to me. I always though that for a child to improve, you had to point out what they did wrong. But by telling Michael what he did right, he seemed to want to improve on his own.”

After a few months if no criticizing, and a little deserved praise, her handwriting improved 100 percent!

Read A Book – More Than Once

I love reading. It’s not often that people reread a book. Many of us will rewatch movies and TV shows though. Maybe we should get in the practice of rereading too. Just a thought.

My List of 2020 Reads – my annual reading (b)log