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How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Freeing Children from Playing Roles

“All of the psychology courses I had taken had warned of the dangers of the self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you labeled a child as a slow learner, he could begin to see himself as a slow learner.  If you saw a child as mischievous, chances are he’d start showing you just how mischievous he could be.  Labeling a child was to be avoided at all costs.  I agreed completely; and yet I couldn’t stop thinking of (my child) David as a ‘stubborn kid,’” Faber and Mazlish write.

If you’re at all like me, you can relate to this comment.  My husband was appalled the day I labeled my daughters the “Peace, Love, and Happiness Hippie” and the “Angry Activist.”  I find while I usually know the “right” way to parent, putting it into practice is an entirely different story.  But How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk convincingly conveys the importance of ending this behavior.

“How your parents think of you can often be communicated in seconds.  When you multiply those seconds by the hours of daily contact between parents and children, you begin to realize how powerfully young people can be influenced by the way their parents view them.  Not only are their feelings about themselves affected, but so is their behavior.”

According to Faber and Mazlish, here’s how to liberate your child from playing out a role:

  • Look for opportunities to show the child a new picture of himself. “You’ve had that toy since you were three and it almost looks like new.”
  • Put children in situations where they can see themselves differently. “Sara, would you take the screwdriver and tighten the pulls on these drawers?”
  • Let children overhear you say something positive about them. “He held his arm steady even though the shot hurt.”
  • Model the behavior you’d like to see. “It’s hard to lose, but I’ll try to be a sport about it.  Congratulations!”
  • Be a storehouse for your child’s special moments.  “I remember the time you…”
  • When the child acts according to the old label, state your feelings and/or your expectations. “I don’t like that.  Despite your strong feelings, I expect sportsmanship from you.”

Maybe, it’s because for my other blog, Befriending Forty, I spend so much time reflecting on ways to put myself in situations where I can see myself differently that this chapter, Freeing Children from Playing Roles, resonated with me long after I’d finished reading it.  I found myself recalling words my mother spoke to me during the delivery of my first child.

I’d been attempting to push my baby out for nearly three hours and laboring for over twenty.  In between contractions, I told the doctor I couldn’t understand why the world was grossly overpopulated.  Who would ever subject themselves to this agony again?  The nurse insisted I’d forget once I saw my baby, but I felt confident she was wrong.  (Of course, she wasn’t.)  When my mom, who was acting as my labor coach, heard me say I couldn’t go on, she answered with, “Of course, you can.  You’re the strongest person I know.  You’ve hiked through the rainforest.”

Remembering how her positive words carried me through those moments before I held my daughter in my arms makes me think Faber and Mazlish are correct – never underestimate the power of a parent’s words upon a child’s life.


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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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