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How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Engaging Cooperation

“One of the built in frustrations of parenthood is the daily struggle to get our children to behave in ways that are acceptable to us and to society,” write Faber and Mazlish.  How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk does a good job of explaining the problem in this conflict of needs.

When I picked my daughter up at art class last week, she had clay on her cheek.  Another parent shared how, upon mention of a bath, my daughter announced, “I hate baths!  I wish I never had to take them.”  Mortified, I quietly slipped out of the room with my dirty kid, thinking of Faber and Mazlish’s words.  “A lot of parental passion goes into helping children adjust to societal norms.  And somehow the more intense we become, the more actively they resist.”

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk begins its discussion of engaging cooperation by addressing what not to do:  blaming, accusing, name-calling, threats, commands, lecturing, moralizing, warnings, martyrdom statements, comparisons, sarcasm, and prophecy.  While those labels sound severe, I know I’ve been guilty of each at least once.  Come on.  Who hasn’t made the threat, “If you touch your sister again you’re going to your room”?

If your hope is to engage your children’s cooperation without destroying their self-esteem, then Faber and Mazlish suggest the following:

· Describe what you see, or describe the problem, such as “I see the dog pacing up and down near the door.”  This will give kids a chance to tell themselves what to do.

· Give information, such as “It would really be helpful if the table were set for dinner now.”  Children can usually figure out for themselves what needs to be done.

· Say it with a word, instead of a long-winded speech, such as “Kids, pajamas!”  In most cases less is more.

· Talk about your feelings, such as “I don’t like having my sleeve pulled.”  This allows parents to be genuine without being harmful.

· Write a note when nothing you say seems to be effective, such as “Before you turn on this TV – think – have I done my homework?”

I never would have thought of the last one, especially since I have a four-year-old in the house, but then the other day she asked if she could have a post-it note.  She scribbled on it and stuck it on the door to the garage, which we enter and exit through.  I asked her what it said and she explained it was a reminder, just like the ones I write, to make sure she remembers to bring her penguin to school.  Once again, I realized she could handle more than I thought.

Still, I think the biggest thing I took away from this chapter was Faber and Mazlish’s point to eliminate pleading when an immediate response is required.  “Please lends itself best to our more relaxed moments…When you want something done immediately, it’s a good idea to speak forcefully rather than to plead.”  Otherwise, you may just end up feeling frustrated that you’re politeness was disregarded.  I know I do.

Remember, according to How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, the goal is to “speak to what is best in our children – their intelligence, their initiative, their sense of responsibility, their sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to the needs of others.”  When we do, we’re not only demonstrating how to cooperate but also guaranteeing respectful communication for years to come.


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Check out Victoria Winterhalter’s blog, Befriending Forty ( It chronicles what happens when the person you thought you’d be meets the person you actually became.

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.

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