“Grace Based Parenting” and “Simplicity Parenting” give me the foundations on which we build our parenting style, but “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is one I rely on for the practical side of communicating with my sons. I cannot say enough how outstanding this book is, easy to read (although a bit long), easy to apply, incredibly practical. Not everything will work for every child, but plenty of the strategies work even with my two-year-old.
Just one little warning here for the evangelicals who read this blog (skip to the following paragraph if you’r not interested, this is a major digression) – one of my only complaints about books that aren’t written from a faith perspective is that there is no appreciation or respect for the individual’s (and a child’s) ability to sin. So that is never taken into account, so this is not a book I rely on when it comes to the need to discipline for disobedience. But I part ways from the majority of the evangelical “go-to” parenting books (I’m thinking of “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” in particular) because of its singular focus on discipline for disobedience and its singular offering for what to do for disobedience. I still wish that non-faith books recognize that children aren’t innately good and able to “just choose” the right thing if parents line up all the right circumstances for them. But I wish that evangelicals and the evangelical books had an understanding and respect for child development, psychology and communication. These are not things to be dismissed – we need to understand, respect and listen to experts in these fields because they have something valuable to say to us about our children.
For me, I am constantly trying to find middle ground between these two camps, drawing from both what I appreciate but casting aside the things that I do not believe have relevance for our family.
Digression end. Moving on.
So this book, which I will now refer to as “How to Talk” – amazing. I love reading it, the style is conversational and easy, with lots of real examples of how parents apply the techniques. Each chapter also has questions for parents to answer and reflect on, an easy summary of the chapter, and questions from parents about the practices.
But the best part is that there are so many different ideas. I’ll just list now a few things that were helpful for me.
Helping Children Deal with Feelings (chapter 1)
After Little Boy turned one, I remember the moments when he became more willful about certain things, and as much as I knew there was a problem with the behavior, I could also recognize that there were feelings in his heart – feelings that needed to be respected. I also began to see that as I go through my own life, it’s a lot easier for me to deal with patterns of negative (sinful) behavior in my heart if I first begin to acknowledge me feelings, instead of just dismissing them or “controlling” them.
They give this sample conversation in the book.
Child: Mommy, I’m tired.
Me: You couldn’t be tired. You just napped.
Child: (louder) But I’m tired.
Me: You’re not tired. You’re just a little sleepy. Let’s get dressed.
Child: (wailing) No, I’m tired!
I hope I’m not the only one out there who has had a similar conversation with their child. It became so clear to me that many of our conflicts with Little Boy stemmed from me disregarding what he was trying to tell me and disregarding his feelings.
I can’t tell you how much easier some of our moments are now because I stop talking, listen, feed back to him what he is saying, give his feelings a name (“It sounds like you’re angry, kiddo”).
Engaging Co-operation (chapter 2)
Here are the main points:
- Describe what you see or describe the problem – I did not realize how much I was prone to assuming he knew what was wrong instead of first communicating what was “wrong” with a situation.
- Give information – This is one of the points that stuns me still today, even my two-year-old appreciates reasoned information. We have stairs that curve up, so at the curve the stairs are quite narrow. From our first day here, I’ve told him “big side for the big boy” when we walk up and down. Only in the past week has he started wanting to defy and walk on the narrow side. Finally yesterday I realized I had never given him any information, so I stopped, got down to his level, and said: “Kiddo, do you know why I don’t want you to walk on the small side? Look at the size of your feet, it’s too big for the small side, there’s less space for you to walk, so you might fall down, and I don’t want you to fall down. See there’s a big space on the big side, and it’s big enough for your feet, that’s why I want you to walk over there.” Zero issues with him trying to walk on the small side after that for the day (let’s see what today holds). I have been amazed at his ability to listen to these kinds of information-giving moments, and honestly I think it’s because he feels respected that I’m taking the time to inform him about something.
- Say it with a word – again, this one is like a magic trick. Instead of a long explanation (although it’s sometimes needed, see above), I’ll just say “Shoes,” and he knows he has to go get his shoes. Or “Toys” when I want him to pick up his toys.
There were other points, but these were the most helpful for me. The book becomes more and more applicable as children get older, but the first two chapters alone had many helpful ideas that work well for me with our toddler.
This post is Day 19 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.
(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)