Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk: A review

via Amazon.com
My Review 
This book is by far the best parenting book I have ever read. And so what if I haven’t read many parenting books? I still say it is amazing. It seems like it is more than a parenting book, they offer strategies that work for adults too (see the last section in this post if you don't believe me). I will be talking about this book for lots of posts because there is too much awesomeness in this book to just dump it in one post. 

This book was written not long after I was born, so way before the term “helicopter parent” started being thrown around. {And can I just say how much I HATE that phrase? I find it a disparaging, amorphous label for something I (as a former educator and all-around parent judger) consider a very rare phenomenon. But every time I hear or read “helicopter parent,” I feel some sort of reflexive need to send my toddlers to play tag in a busy street or to hunt and forage for their own food or something dumb just to prove I’m not a helicopter parent, ugh.} But this book gives concrete, reasonable, and caring strategies (so no playing in traffic, or anything stupid) for parents to empowers their kids to be problem solvers and to think for themselves instead of relying on their parents to solve problems or think for them. So it kind of feels timeless, in that sense. And best of all, it does all that without once making me feel defensive, unlike some parenting books (honestly, that is probably why I still haven’t read Bringing Up Bebe. And why I sometimes want to punch Dr. Sears in the face. Update, I caved, read, and reviewed Bringing Up Bebe here and here. Still want to punch the whole Sears family in the face though.)

Some of these tools are geared towards your more verbal kiddos. So I might need to read Happiest Toddler on the Block or something for some "gap strategies" for Maggie. (update: don't read HTOTB, you can read the NYTs review of it here and save the time. Instead, read The Verbal Behavior Approach, review here and here)

this bedhead. it deserves its own tumblr, like this girl's hilarious bedhead

How to help kids with big, scary feelings
The book begins by discussing how you can help your children deal with their feelings. This was stuff I was already trying to do, so at first I worried this topic would be all their was to this book. And I got sad. But I'm here to tell you, don’t get sad! There is so much more to learn here. Anyway, these strategies will obviate a lot of additional problem behaviors and they are an important foundation for solid parenting skills.

Even though this area is something I have been actively working on, I was totally guilty of statements like this: “What do you mean you don’t like {whatever)? You LOVE {whatever}!”or “Noooo! You don’t mean that!” and "Don't be silly, I know you want to {do whatever}."

The book points out that when you do this, you are just turning your kid's attempts to communicate with you into arguments and worse, you are telling your kids (over and over again) not to trust their own perceptions but to rely on yours, instead. And the more you try to get them to push their feelings away, the longer it will take them to actually accept/deal with them.

The steps:
Instead, the authors recommend you (1) listen with your full attention, (2) acknowledge their feelings (nodding or saying things like oh, uh huh, I see...), (3) give their feelings a name (you sound pretty frustrated. or that must have made you really angry!) and (4) give them their wishes in fantasy  (e.g., I wish someone would invent a slinky that never got tangled! Wouldn't it be great if instead of car seats, we had swings and slides in this car?).

That last step was totally new to me. But it seems kind of cool. You don't have to fix anything. In fact, you are discouraged from trying to fix anything (no unsolicited advice!)! Instead, you are encouraging kids to quasi-problem solve (even though it is fantasy; but pretending can actually be an important gateway to problem solving). And you are able to emphasize the whole empathy thing. 

The problem with "why?"
A lot of times when kids are unloading their feelings, a parent's first instinct is to ask a ton of questions. (What happened? Why are you crying? etc.) They authors made some pretty excellent arguments for not doing that {a barrage of questions can be overwhelming for kids and, lets be real, adults too. In other words, you are being super annoying.} And they go on to make some really compelling reasons to totally avoid "why" questions FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. Seriously. "Why" questions are actually veiled accusations. {I learned this is crisis counseling training. But this gave a good reminder. e.g., "why did you scream?" means "you shouldn't have been screaming!"} Anyway, if you are thinking about asking a little kid why they threw the blocks on the ground after y'all just picked them up? (or anything along those lines?) I'll save you the trouble. They did it because they wanted to. Aren't you glad you asked? Super useless information, am I right?

Using these tips on grown ups
I love that these strategies and suggestions are totally applicable to adult relationships too. Like this:
Your coworker says: OMG, read this email! I'm totally going to get fired!
DON'T say: Don't worry! {or calm down, that is another huge DON'T} You won't be fired! They'd totally fire that douche canoe, so-and-so, before they'd even think of firing you. (hint: she wants you to validate her feelings, not negate them, tell her what to do, or tell her something she already knows.)
DON'T say: How did you let this happen? Why didn't you just call them back sooner!? (no interrogating, especially judgement/why questions)
DON'T say: You need to march straight into your boss's office and tell him, x, y, an z. And then you need to... (she didn't ask for your advice and is probably too stressed out to listen. DO YOU HEAR ME, MEN? however, it is totally appropriate to give advice if she came to you and said: I'm freaking out, what should I do?!)
DO say: Ugh, what a stressful way to start your work week! (acknowledge her feelings and you can even use some fantasy language) Too bad nobody sells some sort of anti-throwing-you-under-the-bus gear!

Read Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 of this series.
Another great book to try if you liked this: If I Have To Tell You One More Time.. reviewed here



  1. Not a parent yet, but this book sounds awesome-sauce. I am having so much fun reading your reviews of books.

  2. Great review! I love this book already - can't wait to actually read it! This will definitely help with my highly verbal and opinionated toddler. :)

    Also - douche canoe. Haha.

  3. WHY is the Kindle edition 12.99? So annoying. Maybe the library will have it.

    OK, so I totally call Trey Helicopter Dad (in good fun, he totally owns it).

    I liked Free-Range Kids for some of the reasons that you mentioned above, but I did feel judgment when I read it.

    1. I KNOW! I'm so annoyed that they do that! but I can read it putting Maggie to sleep so I'm sort of stuck with the kindle if I want to get much reading in.

  4. Haha! I've used the techniques in this book with adults too - including my husband!! The problem I have is remembering everything..when it comes to my kids! I created detailed animated video summary to help me remember. Perhaps it will be of benefit to someone else: