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How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
Adele Faber, Elaine Mazlish:
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Steve's Notes From the Book

Some Amazon reviews

Steve's Notes

I have just taken another look at this book. I am up to the third chapter now and I have found very little I disagree with or would improve upon compared to most books on parenting. I do have a few concerns, but they are relatively minor.

The authors attended parenting workshops put on by Haim Ginott then wrote a book called Liberated Parents/Liberated Children in which they told their personal story of how Ginott's teaching affected them and their families. Later they developed workshops to help parents and teachers. Finally, they wrote How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk which was more of a "how to" manual with very specific suggestions and guidelines.

It was first published in 1980 but the ideas are still relevant. In fact, it is saddening to me how few parents have applied the ideas taught by Ginott, Faber and Mazlish when they have been around long enough now to have raised virtually a whole new generation. Though the term "emotional intelligence" was not around in the 70's and 80's, the teachings of these writers comes much closer to a practical approach to developing your child's emotional intelligence than some recent books which have capitalized on the term.


This is an exceptionally easy book to read. It seems almost too simple in fact, but the ideas represent profound and important changes in parenting and communication. The authors don't talk about validating and invalidation per se, but in effect this is exactly what they give very clear and practical examples of. The examples they use have obviously come from real world situations, provided by the parents in their workshops. I highly recommend the book and feel regret for not having put a more complete review of it on my site earlier. S. Hein Dec. 2001

I will begin my notes with this quote from pages 87-88. It is one of the best statements I have ever seen by authors of parenting books:

People have asked us, "If I use these skills appropriately will my children always respond?" Our answer is: We would hope not.Children aren't robots, Besides, our purpose is not to set forth a series of techniques to manipulate behavior so that children always respond.

Our purpose is to speak to what is best in our children-- their intelligence, their initiative, their sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to the needs of others.

We want to put an end to talk that wounds the spirit, and search out the language that nourishes self-esteem.

We want to create an emotional climate that encourages children to cooperate because they care about themselves, and because they care about us.

We want to demonstrate the kind of respectful communication that we hope our children will use with us -- now, during their adolescent years, and ultimately as our adult friends.

These are admirable goals. The authors go along way to help parents reach such goals, with the few exceptions I have mentioned in my concerns. By the way the authors write as if they are just one person speaking, I will continue their model and refer to the writer as "she" as if it is one mother writing.

Chapter 1 - Helping children deal with feelings

Authors give some examples of the notes they took at the first meeting with Haim Ginott.

Direct connection between how kids feel and how they behave

When kids feel right, they'll behave right.

How do we help them 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 are just saying that because you are tired"
"There's no reason to be upset."

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

She said when she got home she started noticing herself talk to her kids. She gives these examples from just one day:

Child: Mommy, I'm tired.
Mom: You couldn't be tired. You just napped.
Child: (louder) But I'm tired.
Mom: You're not tired. You're just a little sleepy. Let's get dressed.
Child: (wailing) No, I'm tired!

Child: Mommy, it's hot in here.
Mom: It's cold. Keep your sweater on.
Child: No, I'm hot.
Mom: I said, "Keep your sweater on!"
Child: No, I'm hot.

Child: That TV show was boring.
Mom: No it wasn't. It was very interesting.
Child: It was stupid.
Mom: It was educational.
Child: It stunk.
Mom: Don't talk that way!


She then writes:

Can you se what was happening? Not only wre all our conversations turning into arguments, I was also telling my children over and over again not to trust their own perceptions, but to rely upon mine instead.

Once I was aware of what I was doing, I was determijned to change. But I wasn't shure of how to go about it. What finally helped me the most was actually putting myself in my children's shoes. I asked myself, "Suppose I were a child who was tired, or hot or bored" And suppose I wanted that all-important grown-up in my life to know what I was feeling....?"

Over the next few weeks I tried to tune into what I felt my children might be experiencing; and when I did, my words seemed to follow naturally. I wasn't just using a technique. I really meant it when I said, "So you're still feeling tired--even though you just napped." Or "I'm cold, but for you it is hot in here." .... After all we were two seperate people, capable of having two different sets of feelings. Neither of us was right or wrong. Each of us felt what we felt.


SH note:

In these examples I would drop the "even though you just naped" and the "I'm tired" since these still tend to invalidate the child's perception or cause them to have some self-doubt. Also, when I tell someone I feel, I am not very interested in how they are feeling. At least not until they have heard what I have said and I feel heard and understood. Once they have heard, then I am open to their feelings. But even then I prefer it if people wait till I ask how they feel or what their perception is before they "steal the scence" from me and talk about themselves. I believe the adult who is emotionally secure does not need to constantly tell the child how the adult is feeling. One problem is that when the adult does this, the child is indirectly preparing the child to feel responsible for the adult's feelings or at least to cause the child to be overly pre-occupied with how the adult is feeling at the expense and neglect of the child's own feelings. Compare, for instance, the example the author just gave when she said, "I'm cold, but for you it is hot in here" with this story in which a little girl asked me why I wasn't wearing a shirt. I knew that what was most important was her perception of things, not mine. I am old enough to trust my own perceptions, but children aren't. That is why I believe as adults it is our role to help them feel confident in their own perceptions. By the way here are a couple more examples of invalidation by a parent which I have seen myself:

Child: We are always late.
Mom: (feeling defensive) We are never late!

Child: Mom, there are heaps of dishes to wash.
Mom: There are not heaps.

Child: This picture of me is disgraceful.
Mom: No it isn't. It is a lovely picture.

In this case the mother often felt defensive since she has had to defend herself all her life. She told me how her own mother, who I will call Mother 1, constantly invalidated her. For example, she was shopping once and her mother wanted her to buy a particular dress. She said she didn't like that dress and that it was ugly. Mother 1 said "It is not ugly. It is a lovely dress. Now go try it on." Even though the new mother, Mother 2, is aware that she was invalidated by her own mother, notice how she is doing the same thing to her own children, even using exactly the same words.

End SH note.

The author continues....

For a while my new skill was a big help. There was a noticeable reduction in the number of arguments between the children and me. Then one day my daughter announced, "I hate Grandma," and it was my mother she was talking about. I never hesitated for a second. "That is a terrible thing to say," I snapped. "You know you don't mean it. I don't ever want to hear that coming out of you again."

That little exchange taught me something else about myself. I could be very accepting about most of the feelings the children had, but let one of them tell me something that me angry or anxious and I'd insantly revert to my old way.

SH note about anger and defensiveness:


p 83 "It's been our experience that children whose feelings are respected are likely to be respectful of adult feelings."


My concern and suggestions

p 59 The authors try to give two examples of "giving information" instead of making threats or showing disapproval, judging etc. The first example I agree with. The mother see the kids have left the milk out and she says "Kids, milk turns sour when it isn't refrigerated." This is what I would call a good example of giving information and educating. The next example shows the mother in her daughter's bedroom looking at an apple core on her bed. She says "Apple cores belong in the garbage."

Let's look again at the stated goals of the authors:

...our purpose is not to set forth a series of techniques to manipulate behavior so that children always respond.

Our purpose is to speak to what is best in our children-- their intelligence, their initiative, their sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to the needs of others.

We want to put an end to talk that wounds the spirit, and search out the language that nourishes self-esteem.

We want to create an emotional climate that encourages children to cooperate because they care about themselves, and because they care about us.

We want to demonstrate the kind of respectful communication that we hope our children will use with us -- now, during their adolescent years, and ultimately as our adult friends.

When a parent talks about where something "belongs" or where it "should be" or what is "appropriate" they are not speaking to the child's intelligence, initiative, sense of humor, or ability to be sensitive to others. They are speaking to the child's fear of judgment, disapproval, and rejection, as well as to his or her sense of guilt.

In this case the apple core is not bothering the daughter, and if the mother just says "Apple cores belong in the garbage" the daughter doesn't know why it bothers the mother. If the daughter would say "Why do apple cores belong in the garbage?" the mother might perceive that her authority about knowing where apple cores belong is being questioned and feel threatened on some instinctive level. The mother may then get defensive and be tempted to say "Because I said so" or "because it is disgusting to have a rotten apple core on your bed!"

A better response would be for the mother to think about why the apple core being on the bed bothers her, the express her fears and give a rational, educational, informative answer. For example, she might say, "I am afraid it will stain the blanket on the bed" or "I am afraid it will attract insects and that they might eat a hole in the blanket where they taste the apple juice" Then the child has a chance to consider the mothers feelings, in this case her fears, and also to use her intelligence to see the cause and effect relationship between the apple core and a possible stain or hole in the blanket.

p 83,83 Authors give examples of telling child what they "expect." For instance, "I expect this to be a family where we are all caring about each others' feelings!", and "I expect you to be kind to animals." First, this is not much different than saying you "should" do so and so. Second, it sets the parent up for disappointment later when the child doesn't perform up to the parent's expectations. (See discussion of disappointment.) Another problem with "expecting" something is that is very close to demanding it. When you make a demand you set yourself up for a power struggle, as well as for frustration if your demand is not met. There are two helpful things which come to mind when I think of the word "demands". The first is something I read which recommended we change our demands into preferences. The book talked about how we can get addicted to demands almost like we can get addicted to unhealthy substances, thus the author used the term "addictive demands." Preferences, on the other hand, leave us and the other person with room for compromise, where as demands don't.. Second is a recommendation that we not get attached to the outcomes of things. This way if things don't go exactly as we wanted, we are less likely to be frustrated, upset, disappointed, etc. Or, at least we may feel such emotions less intensely.



Note about anger and defensiveness

Notice that the author says "angry." I suspect a more precise feeling word would be defensive. As I discuss in my section on anger, anger is what I and other authors call a "secondary emotion." In other words there is a primary, more specific feeling which comes first; one which undelies or which triggers the more intense physiological reaction we call anger. It is more helpful to identify the primary feeling because it helps you see yourself more clearly. If one is often feeling defensive, it becomes more clear that there is some basic insecurity, which potentially can then be addressed. Another reason to identify the specific feeling of defensiveness is to help one realize they are not feeling open. If one is not feeling open they are unlikely to be able to hear what another person has to say, particularly their own child, who it seems many parents are quite quick to dismiss.

On a related note, I have found that parents are very often defensive when anything questions their abilities as a parent. This is understandable since in all likelihood they have received no formal training to be a parent, so on some level they feel unsure of their abilities. In addition, it has become more clear in the past 100 years or so the affect inadequate parenting has on society. Or to put it more simply, parents are being blamed more now for the problems their children have. Discouragingly though, instead of the parents seeking training and reading what books there are available, for example, and instead of society providing parenting training classes in the high schools and universities, parents have simply become more and more defensive. This creates more stress, tension and conflicts in the home, which only makes things worse. When they feel stressed, defensive and anxious as the author mentioned above, they are even more likely to invalidate their children, which in turn causes even more problems not only in the home, but in society.

Amazon Reviews


If I could entice every new parent to read just one book, this would be it. Thousands of children's lives have been improved, and in some cases transformed, as a direct result of their parents reading this book and practicing its kid-tested, nonpunitive approaches to discipline. The authors have little time for abstract theorizing, concerning themselves with down to earth practical issues of parenting, using sensitivity, empathy, communication skills, and humor. This book is crammed with invaluable suggestions, techniques and ideas for parents committed to raising great kids without resorting to discredited, harmful, pain-and-fear-based methods of the past.

This book is in its twentieth edition for a reason: these methods WORK. I personally know a mother who formerly used the harsh, punitive methods of James Dobson, only to find that her problems with her daughter became worse and worse over time rather than better. After she read "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk" and put its suggestions into practice, she literally threw Dobson's volume into the trash. And after a year and a half, she told me her relationship with her daughter had improved so much that she'd previously had no idea that it COULD be that good. The fact that the problems she'd been having had vanished now seemed almost an afterthough compared to the deepening of their parent-child bond. Their communication had improved profoundly, opening up previously unguessed levels of richness in their relationship. "She is such a terrific kid," my friend once told me, and with genuine incredulity added, "I can't believe I actually used to HIT her!!"

Another acquaintance of mine, who is raising two great kids using nonpunitive methods of the sort Faber and Mazlish recommend, summarized her entire philosophy in just one sentence: "I don't want obedient children, I want COOPERATIVE children!" I think the great majority of parents, if they thought about it, would realize that this is what they too would prefer. Faber and Mazlish show the way.

This book appears at first glance to be a collection of nonpunitive discipline techniques, but it is actually much more: a whole new way of thinking about the parent-child relationship which transcends the permissiveness vs strictness continuum with an approach to parenting based on neither punishments nor rewards. Authoritarian methods use coercion to make the child lose and the parent win, while total permissiveness makes the parent lose and the child win. Faber and Mazlish's methods, on the other hand, show the way towards families in which everybody wins.

Christopher Dugan



A therapist recommended this book to me when my son was 4 years old and I was going though a difficult divorce. I read the book and actually photocopied the basic ideas of each chapter and taped them to the refrigerator for easy reference. The ideas are simple and effective. They build self-esteem and keep the avenues of communication open between parent and child. My son is now almost 18, and we still have a terrific relationship. I've been following the practices in this book for 14 years and I can tell you it has made all the difference.

Wherever my son goes, I hear from people who tell me how wonderful he is, how well-mannered, pleasant and charming. They all want to know what ever did I do to raise him this way. I tell them about this book. The more I move through life and the business world, however, I am struck how the same techniques enhance communication between adults in all aspects of life.

This book should also be listed in the Business/Management section. It says all the same things the high-priced consultants say -- treat people with respect, do not deny their emotions, state the facts (only) and shut up and listen. This book also talks about giving praise and recognition, which makes it another reason to use it in real life, inside the family AND outside in the "real" world.