How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is not so much a parenting book, although it will help your parenting, but more a communication book. And it’s ridiculously effective. You will not believe how much of a difference some seemingly tiny changes to how you speak to your children will make.
The book has been popular since it came out in the 1980s, and Gretchen Rubin raves about it, but I didn’t think it would be all that life-changing. I figured it would be mostly psychobabble, self-esteem stuff. I’m glad I gave it a shot anyway, since it isn’t those things.
Even as I read, I didn’t believe the ideas could make much of a difference. I mean, what difference does it make how I ask my kids a question? How can a simple change in wording or a tiny suggestion stop a tantrum or change a habit?
I decided to try it. As I read, I tried out the techniques. Whoa. They worked. Not just a little bit worked, but amazingly, incredibly, astoundingly worked. They worked for issues I didn’t even realize were related to how I was communicating! I gave Josh some examples of how I had done it. Some of the situations are common and long-standing so he knew how they usually go. I reported what I said. He looked at me, incredulous. That worked? That’s all it took? Yes. He was shocked. He may actually read my book notes from this book and try it himself (I hope he will).
I think different parts of the book would be helpful to different family situations, but overall the ideas can be used with kids of all ages, from the smallest babies to teenagers.
If you ever feel like you’re talking but not getting through to your kids, like you’re yelling when you don’t want to, like your children are stuck in a habit and getting labeled, like you can’t get them to do their homework, or any number of other communication issues, you need to read this book.
The book is easy to read. Each section walks through a common way of communicating, why it’s not effective (you’ll find yourself nodding and feeling better that you’re not the only one who experiences this–although the book is from the ’80s, I was surprised at how apt the descriptions were. I guess things haven’t changed that much since I was a kid), and suggests an alternative. Then there are cartoon representations of how to implement it (which were also very helpful), followed by reports of how real life parents put it in to practice and the results they found. I got a lot out of the real parent reports, because it’s helpful to see how other people handle issues.
I also read a follow-up book by the same authors, Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. Although it covers many of the same ideas and isn’t as comprehensive as How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, the siblings book does have some very helpful insights into things like how to help kids learn to work through arguments, when to let them handle a fight and when to intervene (and how to do so effectively), and more information about how to avoid giving kids labels (like mean, destructive, rude) that they then live down to and help siblings not label each other either.
As with the first book, Siblings doesn’t take an unrealistically rosy view–kids disagree and have to learn to get along over time, and some brothers and sisters just won’t be great friends until they get older. But we can give them tools to get along better and give ourselves tools to handle inevitable disagreements. I appreciated that the first page of the book is a quote from Psalms: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.” I make my kids sing the song version of that Psalm frequently.
As I mentioned above, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is not really a parenting book, and neither is Siblings Without Rivalry. You won’t find much about time out or sleep schedules or whatnot, but you’ll find communication strategies that will work no matter what your parenting philosophy. If you’re a parent or teacher or work with children in some way, I highly recommend these helpful books!
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