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Book Review: How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Updated: Mar 7

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Time is our most precious commodity; even more so as a parent. Our book series is meant to provide a concise summary of parenting and child development books to include the scientific theories which underpin its advice.

These reviews can help you decide whether adding it to your reading list fits with life’s competing demands. Besides, we read it so you don’t have to!

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk teaches six skill sets to help parents and caregivers interact more effectively with children of all ages.

The original book was published in 1980 and has been updated over the years with additional information and real life examples that the authors use to highlight the relevance of the skill sets discussed.

The authors have collected many examples over the years through teaching numerous parenting workshops. Using the skills provided in this book, parents can change how they talk and listen to children, which can improve communication, lessen conflict, and strengthen relationships.

We recommend this book as the authors are considered parenting or parent-child communication experts, and the underlying ideas of the book are based in psychology (specifically the child-rearing philosophies of the psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott).

While there is no single theory that accurately depicts all aspects of child development the underpinnings of this book are based in well researched and evidence based methods.

Applying the Pathfinder PROE model of child development:

We believe that the key ideas of most well-known child development theories can be placed into one (or more) of four main concepts, Play, Relationships, Observation, and Experiences, that we call the PROE model of child development.

Pathfinder Health takes an active approach to child development and the PROE model of child development is based on action-oriented concepts. Our action concepts of PROE can be found in the content and skill sets presented in this book.

Six skill sets in How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

1. Helping children deal with their feelings - this can be accomplished by listening with full attention, acknowledging feelings, naming feelings, and granting wishes in fantasy.

Imagine this scenario: you ran out of your child’s favorite snack at home and they are upset. A response could be “you’re upset that we don’t have any goldfish, it can be frustrating when we can’t have something we want.

I wish that I had enough goldfish to fill the whole kitchen right now!” Key concepts from this chapter are that all feelings can be accepted, but certain actions must be limited (you can accept anger but still not allow hitting), and that accepting feelings doesn’t have to mean agreeing with them (children’s feelings are still valid even if you think they are unnecessary).

Helping your child to deal with their emotions will strengthen your relationship with them as they learn that they can always share their feelings with you.

2. Engaging cooperation - a few tips for getting children to cooperate when repeating the same thing doesn’t seem to be working: describe what you see/the problem (“I see toys on the floor!”), give information (“toys belong in their bin when they’re not being used”), say it with a word (use single-word reminders; best for older children), talk about your feelings (“I don’t like when toys are left on the floor because I worry I’m going to step on them and break them or hurt my foot”), or write a note (a note at child height on the way out of the playroom saying “please put us away before leaving! Love, your toys”).

When your child observes you expressing your own emotions, they will learn that they can share their emotions with you, and they will learn which behaviors are and are not appropriate based on your behavior.

3. Alternatives to punishment - punishment can often have the opposite effect from what we want. It can teach children to be sneakier next time so they don’t get caught, to seek revenge, or that they are bad or unworthy.

Because of this, punishment can be harmful to relationships. Instead of punishment, try redirecting or point out ways to be helpful (if a child won’t stop running around the grocery store, try having them help push the cart, pick up groceries, or cross things out on the list), express disapproval and state expectations without attacking character (“I don’t like it when you run around the store, I expect you to use your inside feet and stay where I can see you”), offer a choice (“you can either walk next to me down the aisles, or you can push the cart, which would you like to do?”), take action and allow the child to experience natural consequences of their behavior (next time you go to the store, leave your child at home and explain that you’re going alone because of their behavior last time, but that there will be opportunities to behave appropriately at the store in the future).

Note that natural consequences are a direct result of misbehavior, they are not unrelated punishments. This healthy enforcement of rules and boundaries can improve your relationship with your child.

Using energy on play or movement can reduce energy that a child is using on negative emotions or misbehavior (such as if you redirect misbehavior to a way your child can be helpful).

4. Encouraging autonomy - this helps children grow up to be confident and self-sufficient. Some things you can try are letting children make choices (even young children can make guided choices such as “do you want apple or grape juice with breakfast?”), showing respect for a child’s struggle rather than jumping in to do something for them (if a child is struggling to zip up their jacket, say “it can be hard sometimes to get the zipper lined up”), don’t ask too many questions (instead of “How was your day? How was show and tell? Did you play with Derrick at recess?” try “I’d love to hear about your day whenever you want to talk about it”), don’t discourage/take away hope (let them try for the lead in the musical even if you don’t think they’ll get it; let them decide and try for themselves and experience the outcome, good or bad).

These experiences of decision making and even negative outcomes from decisions can improve children’s self-concept and help them develop independence.

5. Praise - praise can do wonders for self-esteem and confidence. Instead of evaluating, try describing (instead of “wow, that’s the best drawing I’ve ever seen!”, try “you worked so hard on that drawing, I love how you used so many different colors”).

This will help a child feel good about themselves as a person, and not just about a single outcome or behavior. Evaluative or comparative praise (such as “you were the best dancer out of everyone in the class!”) may seem good in the moment, but it can lead to children linking your approval and love with their success rather than with them as a person.

Praising their efforts and characteristics instead will teach them to value themselves and will reinforce the positive qualities that we so often strive to raise our children with.

This type of praise will also show your child that you value and appreciate their qualities and who they are, not just what they can do, which will strengthen your relationship.

6. Free children from playing roles - children often get “cast into roles” from a young age. A child who doesn’t like to try new food or gets upset when plans change may be labeled as stubborn or inflexible.

These “roles” are projected onto children and can become self-fulfilling prophecies (if a child is treated and described as stubborn, they may start to believe it and then act accordingly). Instead, find opportunities to show your child a new picture of themselves (“look at you trying a new vegetable, that’s what I call being open-minded!”), let them overhear you say positive things (e.g., to your spouse or parent “we had to cancel his play date yesterday but he was so flexible and he played with the dog instead!”), and model the behaviors you’d like to see.

These experiences can help free your child from roles they’ve been cast in and help them see themselves in a different light. If you show them that you see them in a different light too, it can improve your relationship and your child’s self-esteem.


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