Thursday, December 01, 2011

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen (Cliff's Notes)

About six months ago, I canceled my subscription to Bookswim (the Netflix for books) and vowed to use my library to save money borrowing books. I've been using the library steadily since then, and this is the first time I've owed late fees. Why? Because this book is awesome and I refused to return it before I was finished. (And renewing wasn't an option because there's a wait list for this great book!) What's the book? How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It came out in 1980, and I read the 20th anniversary edition. There's a new edition coming out in February 2012 too.

This post is my Cliff's Notes version of this book so that I can reference these tips over and over again. You might want to as well! The main idea is that our words have the power to help our kids be more self-aware, confident, cooperative, self-reliant, and well-adjusted. A lot of the insights are more relevant for older kids—elementary and teen—but the basic ideas can be implemented even with toddlers and preschoolers. I'm already trying to implement some of these concepts in the way I interact with Kate. (The examples I've written for myself below tend to reflect the issues we're dealing with now with Kate.) Faber and Mazlish have great tips for...

Acknowledging and helping kids identify their feelings
Giving kids the vocabulary to express what they're feeling can help avoid tantrums and acting out as they can use words instead. But feelings can be complex and hard to identify when you're young and your language is limited. Verbalizing things for kids like "I see you're very frustrated" can help give them this vocabulary, and help the child know that you understand and appreciate what they're experiencing. Kate has been more emotional since Claire was born, wanting to be held, not wanting to be apart from Matt or me. "It's hard sharing Mommy and Daddy, isn't it?" we've started saying, and she'll stop crying to say "yes," and it creates a moment of understanding to help her identify why she feels so yucky sometimes now and to know that Mommy and Daddy "feel her pain."

Engaging cooperation
This is the big one for me right now, and these haven't proven too helpful yet, but I'm committed to trying, especially as the kids get older. Better than nagging or placing blame ("you" statements) try the following:
  • Describe the problem ("I see cereal on the floor.")
  • Give information ("Milk gets sour when it's left out.")
  • Say it with a word ("Kate, shoes," rather than saying over and over "You need to put on your shoes.")
  • Talk about your feelings ("I don't like finding milk dripped on the couch.")
  • Write a note (especially for older kids, this is an opportunity to make a reminder lighthearted or funny)
Watch out for too many "no"s
Unavoidable sometimes, so minimize when not necessary. How?
  • Give information without the "no" ("I want crackers." "We're having dinner soon.")
  • Accept feelings ("I don't want to go home yet!" "I see you're having fun. It's hard to leave a place you enjoy so much.")
  • Describe the problem ("Hold me!" "I want to hold you so much. [no 'but'] The problem is, Claire needs to eat now.")
  • Substitute a "yes" when possible ("Can we go to the playground?" "Yes, after lunch we will go.")
  • Give yourself a chance to think ("Let me think about it.")
Alternatives to Punishment
  • Point out a way to be helpful ("It would be helpful if you pick up the spilled cereal.")
  • Express strong disapproval without attacking character ("I don't like it when you tell me 'no.' Please do what Mommy asks.")
  • Show the child how to make amends (Matt is really good at this: "Can you hug Mommy and tell her you're sorry for hitting?" When kids are older, this might involve paying for something broken, etc.)
  • Give a choice ("Should we hop to the car or skip to the car?") 
  • Take action (restraining child or removing from situation. The authors don't like time outs, though, since that is punishment by separation and doesn't help the child learn correct behavior.)
  • Allow the child to experience consequences of the behavior (not getting to go to the grocery if misbehaved the last time. This can be tough depending on the age. The other day, we cancelled fun plans because Kate was misbehaving. She kept asking to go, and when I'd remind her why we weren't going, she'd say "but I'm being good now." So, I'm not sure she totally gets it, but she will soon.)
  • Problem-solving (Come up with alternate solutions together. For bigger kids or teens, this can be more formal, writing down ideas for preventing a problem like being late for school or missing curfew. I notice this happens naturally sometimes, like when Kate fights wearing her car seat buckle over her chest. "I'll wear it over my heart, okay?" she says, which by her definition of "heart" is just about an inch or two lower than I would prefer, but keeps her from pulling it all the way down to her waist.)
Encouraging Autonomy
We want kids to be responsible and self-reliant, so we should give them responsibility for whatever we can. And on the behavior front, battles of will result when the child seeks control over the situation; so let her have control over whatever you can. There were a bunch of tips in this chapter, so I'll divide them into things that might be useful with young kids like Kate, and stuff to file away for later.

  • Let children make choices ("Should we put on your shirt or pants first?")
  • Show respect for a child's struggle ("Buttons can be tough to do sometimes.")
  • Don't rush to answer questions ("Why do you think?" rather than supplying the answer immediately. Better to get them to figure it out or at least try. This is also good for responding to complaints. "Why can't we order pizza?" Responding "Why can't we?" invites the child to think about parents' reasoning, like "because it's expensive," or "because it's not healthy.")
  • Encourage kids to use sources outside the home ("Let's ask the doctor about that," or nowadays, "Let's Google it!")
  • Don't talk about a child in front of her—no matter how young the child (This one is really tough, and I immediately became aware of how often we do this, explaining her behavior to others, etc.)
  • Let a child answer for herself (tough when child gets shy in public, but if possible, say something like "Kate can tell you. She's the one who knows!")
  • Show respect for child's eventual readiness ("I know you'll use the potty on your own when you're ready.")
  • Don't ask too many questions (Imagine the classic "what did you do in school?" "Nothing" interaction. Let kids open up as they are comfortable. "I'm happy to see you," rather than a barrage of questions about their day. Especially avoid "Did you have fun?" because if they didn't, they not only didn't have a good time, they're disappointing you by not having had fun.)
  • Don't take away hope ("That's a neat idea. Tell me about it," rather than "That'll never work," "You're too young," "Your grades aren't good enough," etc.)
  • Let her own her body (avoid fussing over her appearance—rearranging collar, tucking hair behind her ear, etc.)
  • Stay out of the minutiae of child's life (avoid "You need more light to read," "Why do you wear your hair like that?")
Use Effective Praise
Instead of evaluating ("That's really good," or "You're so smart.") describe what you see or what you feel. Saying "I see all the toys put where they belong!" or "I love to see a clean playroom," leads to the child praising herself ("I did a good job picking up my toys.") Or, sum up the praiseworthy behavior in a word: "You got dressed so quickly this morning. Now that's cooperation!"

Words we too often use with Kate are "smart" and "pretty." Instead, we should say things like "You spot letters everywhere we go!" or "You love to match colors!" and (though we should cut back on appearance-based praise in general, I know!) "Your polka dot dress is so colorful!" instead. Describe what we see, rather than defining her with certain adjectives. This is also part of the last major point in the book:

Free Children from Playing Certain Roles
It's easy to define kids as "shy," "stubborn," "strong-willed," etc. and even if we don't verbalize that definition, thinking of a child in a certain way can impact how the child behaves and views himself. Positive roles ("smart" or "pretty," like I mentioned) can even be problematic because they create pressure to maintain that role ("I better not try that hard puzzle because if I can't do it, I won't be smart anymore.") And negative ones, obviously, can hurt the child's self-esteem and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While our "uncooperative" or "naughty" moments with Kate probably total only 10-20 minutes a day, those moments are so frustrating that I can tend to think of Kate's behavior in this phase of life as those things. To combat these roles:
  • Look for opportunities to show the child a new picture of herself ("You got dressed so easily today. That's being cooperative!")
  • Put children in situations where they can see themselves differently (This can be tough in stages when misbehavior can come out of nowhere, but when kids are older, this is things like giving them new responsibilities, etc.)
  • Let children overhear you say positive things about them (Brag on them to the other parent or grandparents. I've heard that this can even be in pretend, like when Kate hands me a play phone, I can tell the "person" on the other end about something great Kate did.)
  • Model the behavior you'd like to see. ("I wish I could eat candy for breakfast, but since that's not a breakfast food, I'll have cereal instead.")
  • Be a storehouse for your child's special moments ("You were so well-behaved at ZooTwos. I remember how you always sat in your seat when the teacher said to.")
  • When your child acts according to the old label, state your feelings and/or expectations ("I feel frustrated when you fight getting dressed. I expect you to cooperate so that you can get to school on time.")
You may not have to read the book for yourself now, but I still highly recommend it. There are so many great tips from this book to try to remember, but the hope is that they become a natural way of speaking to your child. I really want to focus on describing things (both problems and things to praise), not talking about Kate in front of her (except to brag on her), and building her autonomy to avoid battles of will. I've already noticed that I'm able to use choices more, avoid the word "no," and draw attention to Kate's cooperative moments. Dealing with uncooperative moments without nagging or losing my cool are still challenging, but I feel equipped with some new techniques to assist in those inevitable parenting challenges!

1 comment:

EMU said...

Thanks for sharing! I'll put this one on my list! Do they write one about how to communicate with your husband? ;)


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