Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bex's Bookshelves: How to talk so kids will listen & listen so kids will talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

As I have mentioned before, I am not one for reading parenting manuels. I prefer to get on with it and listen to my instincts. However, I came across this book in several different contexts and decided that maybe I should make an exception. That maybe I am not so instinctively brilliant that I couldn't do with a bit of helpful guidance.

The book was great, partly because it agreed with my instincts. Partly because it's just so clear and down to earth. The first chapter on listening skills all seemed familiar to me from my years with the Samaritans. But I wouldn't necessarily have thought of applying those skills to my kids. So that was the first revelation. I think I have fostering autonomy pegged, "toute seule" is Matilda's mantra. Although as one parent pointed out it's nice for kids to know that they don't always have to manage on their own it's ok to ask for help and it's nice to have adults do things for you sometimes. I feel the same way!

The chapter on praise was also an eye-opener. According to the authors, words that evaluate, like good, beautiful, fantastic, are unhelpful. They suggest it is better to describe what you see and what you feel, be as specific as possible. And give the praiseworthy behaviour a name. They like giving things names. As a lover of words, I like this too. I can't get rid of my goods and brilliants, they come too naturally to me, but I am trying to go further and give more engaging praise. And I do think that Matilda appreciates it.

The final chapter on freeing children from playing roles made me think about my own childhood and how many of the labels I put on myself now: clumsy, untechnical, impatient come from things that were said to me growing up. (Ok, ok, there might also be a grain of truth in some of them...) I already have labels for Matilda and Owen, positive and negative, stubborn, charming, nice, weird, I don't think it's possible to avoid labelling people, it's how we arrange things in our heads. But I will beware of defining my children by their labels.

I think the application of the principles the book extols will be more useful as the mini-beasts get older. Problem-solving through discussion is not something I think I could do with Matilda yet although describing the problem and letting Matilda find the solution works. Rather than telling her to stop mauling Owen, taking things from Owen, carting Owen about I have started saying "Owen doesn't like it when you pull his arms", "Owen isn't happy because you've taken away his Marsupilami", "Owen doesn't like it when you try and sweep him up with the dustpan and brush" or simply "Owen is crying" and she usually does whatever needs to be done to fix things. I realised after a couple of attempts at leaping in too soon that I need to give her time to do the right thing. That said, with a two year old, safety considerations sometimes mean that you can't wait for them to find the solution to the problem, not if you want to avoid a trip to A&E.

Here, courtesy of Michaela, is a photo of me trying to put my skills into action when Matilda didn't want to leave the park just because mummy had randomly decided it was time to go home. It's hard being two.


  1. What a coincidence: my mom just bought this book a few months ago to give her tips on "talking" to Noa. I flipped through it and I admit it was along my parenting style. I'm sure I'll inherit it once Margot hits the "terrible twos".

  2. Not so much of a coincidence. Your mom made a comment on Tough Cookies about how good the book was which was one of the reasons I bought it!


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